On Tuesday, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) launched its official Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Yes, that’s what it’s really called. No, it’s not a joke. And it’s not just a campaign to stop would-be Terminators, either. The campaign is an initiative backed by five international non-government organizations to stop the development of fully autonomous weapons, and to question our current use of drone warfare.
The campaign aims to create a pre-emptive and comprehensive ban on the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons. Why, you ask? The minds behind HRW state that “[a]llowing life or death decisions on the battlefield to be made by machines crosses a fundamental moral line.” All these moral concerns are detailed in a 50-page report called Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots that outlines concerns about these fully autonomous weapons.
HRW believes we’re already on an inhuman warpath thanks to the rise of unmanned drone warfare in the past decade. And activist groups have already expressed humanitarian and legal concerns over the use of weapons that can be remotely controlled, flown, and sent to kill a target from virtually anywhere.
Aside from the aforementioned moral concerns, the group is also worried about the potential hacking vulnerabilities of these automated systems. “Computer controlled devices can be hacked, jammed, spoofed, or can be simply fooled and misdirected by humans,” roboticist Noel Sharkey, chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, said in a release.
Worse yet, the organization predicts that as one country begins to use autonomous weapons, everyone will be spurred into a destabilizing robotic arms race—not unlike the nuclear arms race in the Cold War. To stop this from ever happening, the HRW believes a prohibition on killer robots can be achieved through international treaties, as well as through national laws.
HRW isn’t the only one concerned by the development of killer robots. The United Nations is expected to deliver a report on the subject at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on May 27.
On the other side of the bench on this whole killer robot debate, researchers have recently discovered that people feel for these cold machines, too. Blasted human emotions—it would be way easier to put down machines with other machines…that we would then have to stop…but then, there’s that empathy again. So the HRW might be onto something with stopping autonomous machines before they become self-willed…