Concerned activists are about to launch a global pre-emptive strike to ‘kill off’ autonomous weapons (also labeled as ‘killer robots’) which, they say, could be in use on the battlefield within the next 10 years.
The group, comprising academics, pressure groups and Nobel peace prize laureates, claim the rise of the ‘killer robots’ – the next fight phase after unmanned drones – could pose a serious risk to international law as development rapidly gathers pace. The Observer has revealed that the activists – some of those who campaigned successfully for international action against cluster bombs and landmines – are launching The Stop the Killer Robots campaign will be launched in April at the House of Commons.
Dr Noel Sharkey, a leading robotics and artificial intelligence expert and professor at Sheffield University, believes that such weapons are being worked on, but with little emphasis on their impact on international law.
He said the claims are not science fiction, and in fact the research arm of the Pentagon in the US is already working on the X47B unmanned plane which would take autonomous armed combat anywhere on the planet.
Sharkey is not anti-war, but adds that while the technology industry in the US, China, Russia and Israel is excited by what is expected to become a multibillion-dollar industry, he is deeply concerned about how quickly science is moving ahead of the presumptions underlying international laws of war. He explained:
“Actually there is no transparency, no legal process. The laws of war allow for rights of surrender, for prisoner of war rights, for a human face to take judgments on collateral damage. If a robot goes wrong, who is accountable? Not the robot. “The public is not being invited to have a view on the morals of all of this. We won’t hear about it until China has sold theirs to Iran. That’s why we are forming this campaign to look at a pre-emptive ban.”
He added the advent of ‘killer robots’ could also counter the Geneva Convention as there is no mechanism in a robot’s “mind” to distinguish between a child holding up a sweet and an adult pointing a gun.
Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far.”
The campaign has drawn support from US political activist Jody Williams, a Nobel peace prize winner for her work at the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. She believes the campaign will stop the killer robots “before they hit the battlefield” and has found backing from influential sources as the six Nobel peace laureates involved in the Nobel Women’s Initiative fully support it.