Campaigners say killer robots and other autonomous weapons systems should be banned before it’s too late.
Rapid technological advances are bringing them closer to reality but international law is failing to keep up, according to Amnesty International.
It comes as a group of governmental experts meet in Geneva to consider options for countering the threat of such weapons.
There have long been fears artificial intelligence — computer systems and machines that can perform tasks that traditionally have required human brains — can be used to create things like killer robots.
A report earlier this year warned attackers could capitalise on the proliferation of commercial drones and turn them into missiles.
Now human rights organisation Amnesty International says it is time for action.
“Killer robots are no longer the stuff of science fiction,” said Rasha Abdul Rahim, Amnesty’s researcher on artificial intelligence.
“From artificially-intelligent drones to automated guns that can choose their own targets, technological advances in weaponry are far outpacing international law.
“We are sliding towards a future where humans could be erased from decision-making around the use of force
“It’s not too late to change course. A ban on fully autonomous weapons systems could prevent some truly dystopian scenarios, like a new high-tech arms race between world superpowers which would cause autonomous weapons to proliferate widely.
“We are calling on states present in Geneva this week to act with the urgency this issue demands, and come up with an ambitious mandate to address the numerous risks posed by autonomous weapons.”
Amnesty says Austria were among countries who have called for a ban on killer robots and other autonomous weapons systems. But France, Russia, the UK and the US oppose creating legally-binding prohibitions.
.@sndongo2005 delivers @WILPF‘s statement to the #CCWUN talks on #killerrobots, highlighting risks of racial bias, gender-based violence, and repression posed by #autonomousweapons, and the power and profits motivating their development. https://t.co/iXfin83AGP pic.twitter.com/dpAtzd5D1j
— Reaching Critical Will (@RCW_) August 29, 2018
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Statement to the 2018 CCW Group of Governmental Experts on lethal autonomous weapon systems
29 August 2018: “The way ahead”
The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom has just concluded its 32nd International
Congress in Accra, Ghana. While there, WILPF’s African Sections held a meeting on autonomous weapons. They recognised that while their countries may not be the ones to develop and use these technologies, their countries will become the battlegrounds for the testing and deployment of killer robots, the same as they have become for armed drones. These activists know that it will be the rich countries using these weapons against the poor—and the rich within countries using it against their own poor, through policing and internal oppression.
Throughout WILPF’s 103-year history, we have seen that weapons symbolise power. Whether it is small arms or atomic bombs, weapons have been developed and used to dominate others. We also know that the production and proliferation of weapons means profits for corporations and their leaders.
The potential development of autonomous weapon systems must be seen in the contexts of power and profit.
We can see already the corporate interests in the development of these weapons. We can map the connections between ministries of defence, universities, and robotics and tech companies. We are inspired and heartened that many tech workers, academics, and scientists have rejected the weaponisation of their technologies, and have called for a ban on autonomous weapons. But we know that big corporations are already looking ahead to the profits they can make under the guise of “technological advancement”.
But what is this advancement? An autonomous weapon, using algorithms and software to determine and engage targets reduces people to objects. While this may be true with any weapon, the development of killer robots points to an increasing remoteness and abstraction of violence. It suggests the further erosion of the value of human life. The “erasure of human suffering in war” is an element throughout history in official accounts of conflict, but it is arguably enhanced with the violence that will be perpetrated with autonomous weapons if they are developed.
Like the Irish delegation, we are concerned with the perpetuation and amplification of bias in the programming of these weapons. We are concerned that these weapons will be coded with the masculinised power of death and domination. We are worried these weapons will be used to commit acts of gender-based violence. We are worried about the ways in which these weapons could be programmed with racial bias and discrimination. We will discuss some of these concerns at a side event tomorrow, organised with the government of Canada and several of our Campaign to Stop Killer Robots partners.
We need to use this moment in time, before autonomous weapons are developed and deployed, to interrogate the path we are on and to forge a different way ahead. It is not a luxury we often have, so we must seize this moment to prevent us from becoming the worst possible version of ourselves. Today is the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, which provides a useful moment to reflect upon what can happen if we don’t prevent the development of a technology capable of incredible and unpredictable violence.
WILPF, which is a partner of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, urges the negotiation of a ban on autonomous weapon systems. As the Austrian delegation suggested yesterday, the best way to work out the remaining differences of approach and opinion is to start negotiating. Only by developing a legally binding instrument can we ensure that meaningful human control is retained over the critical functions of weapon systems and over the use of force. We welcome the many proposals for a negotiating mandate next year, which are clearly supported by the majority of states participating in these discussions. We look forward to collaborating with you to build a less violent future for us all.