UN expert calls for killer robot ban

A United Nations expert called Thursday for a global moratorium on the testing, production and use of armed robots that can select and kill targets without human command. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/31/world/europe/united-nations-armed-robots.html?ref=world  “War without reflection is mechanical slaughter. A decision to allow machines to be deployed to kill human beings worldwide, whatever weapons they use, deserves a collective pause,” said Christof Heyns, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. The United States, Britain, Israel and South Korea already use technologies that are seen as precursors to fully autonomous systems. “My concern is that we may find ourselves on the other side of a line, and then it is very difficult to go back. If there’s ever going to be a time to regulate or stop these weapons, it’s now.” Preparations to introduce armed robots raise “far-reaching concerns about the protection of life during war and peace. This includes questions of whether robots will make it easier for states to go to war.”

Nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups are campaigning to ban fully autonomous weapons to pre-empt deployment. “It is clear that very strong forces, including technology and budgets, are pushing in the opposite direction .”

Human rights groups dispute the ability of robots to meet the requirements of international law, including the ability to distinguish between civilians and combatants or to assess proportionality — whether the likely harm to civilians during a military action exceeds the military advantage gained by it. Moreover, in the event that a killer robot breaches international laws causing civilian casualties, it is unclear who could be held responsible or punished.

“It is possible to halt the slide toward full autonomy in weaponry before moral and legal boundaries are crossed, but only if we start to draw the line now.”

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