Killer robots condemned in new UN report

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It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.

Killer robots might sound like the stuff of science fiction, but they’re  alarmingly close to becoming a reality. A new report from the United Nations  Human Rights Commission suggests that lethal autonomous robots need to be  regulated before they become the military weapons of the future.

The report — which will be debated at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on  May 29 — states that the United States, Israel, the United Kingdom, South Korea  and Japan all possess lethal robots that are either fully or  semi-autonomous.

Some of these machines — or “lethal autonomous robotics” (LARS), as they are  called in the report — can allegedly choose and execute their own targets  without human input.

The author of the report, South African human rights professor Christof  Heyns, calls for a worldwide moratorium on the “testing, production, assembly,  transfer, acquisition, deployment and use” of these killer robots until further  regulations are put in place to govern their use.

According to the Associated Press, the  report cites at least four examples of fully or semiautonomous weapons that have  already been developed around the world. The report includes the U.S. Phalanx  system for Aegis-class cruisers, which automatically detects, tracks and engages  antiship aircraft.

Other examples of existing LARS include Israel’s Harpy, an autonomous weapon  that detects, attacks and destroys radar emitters; the U.K’s Taranis, a  jet-propelled drone that can autonomously locate targets; and South Korea’s  Samsung Techwin surveillance system, which autonomously detects targets in the  demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

While the U.N. report focuses mainly on LARS, it also decries the recent  upsurge in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles — or drones — by the U.S.  military, and other nations.

“[Drones] enable those who control lethal force not to be physically present  when it is deployed, but rather activate it while sitting behind computers in  faraway places, and stay out of the line of fire,” Heyns wrote.

“Lethal autonomous robotics, if added to the arsenals of States, would add a  new dimension to this distancing, in that targeting decisions could be taken by  the robots themselves. In addition to being physically removed from the kinetic  action, humans would also become more detached from decisions to kill — and  their execution.”

The use of unmanned aircraft to carry out bombing missions in the Middle  East, is already a hotbed issue in the U.S. And recently, killer robots have also been  receiving attention from several groups that wish to bring an end to their  ongoing development.

In November 2012, Human Rights Watch called for an international ban on fully autonomous  robots.  And just last month, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots was launched in London  by a coalition of human rights groups demanding a ban on the future development of  autonomous weapons.

The argument against autonomous weapons is summed up by Heyns in the U.N.’s  new report.

“Decisions over life and death in armed conflict may require compassion and  intuition,” Heyns wrote. “Humans — while they are fallible — at least might  possess these qualities, whereas robots definitely do not.”

There are, however those who argue for the use of drones precisely because of  their lack of human emotions, a point of view that Heyns includes in the Human  Rights Commission’s findings.

“[LARS] will not be susceptible to some of the human shortcomings that may  undermine the protection of life,” Heyns wrote. “Typically they would not act  out of revenge, panic, anger, spite, prejudice or fear.

Moreover, unless specifically programmed to do so, robots would not cause  intentional suffering on civilian populations; for example, through torture.  Robots also do not rape.”


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