Save Us From Killer Robots

Human Rights Watch has set its sights on killer robots. The international group will introduce a new campaign in the British House of Commons in April.

The Stop the Killer Robots campaign, as its straightforward name implies, calls for regulations and restrictions on the currently unchecked development of automated battlefield drones. The campaign is made up of academics and Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including many members who worked with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and successfully urged governments to take action against the weapons.

Killer robots are a clear and present danger to humans, according to Noel Sharkey, a robotics expert and professor at Sheffield University.

“These things are not science fiction; they are well into development,” Sharkey told The Guardian. “The research wing of the Pentagon in the U.S. is working on the X47B [unmanned plane] which has supersonic twists and turns with a G-force that no human being could manage, a craft which would take autonomous armed combat anywhere in the planet.”

This isn’t the first time Human Rights Watch has spoken out against automated weapons systems. The group released a 50-page report in November warning of “killer robots” that have the ability, and authority, to fire on, and deal deadly force to, targets without human intervention. The report was published by both Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic.

Shakey points to current robots’ limitations as cause for caution, rather than any inherent evil in the machines.

“We are struggling to get them to distinguish between a human being and a car. We have already seen utter incompetence in the use of drones, operators making a lot of mistakes and not being properly supervised,” he said. The professor claims he is not anti-war, but worries about the rapid pace he is seeing in the development of unmanned weapons systems.

“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,” Shakey said.

Until Shakey and the Stop the Killer Robots Campaign succeed, we suggest buying some insurance.

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