Killer robots must be banned before it’s too late, according to a new United Nations report. Christof Heyns, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, recently delivered an annual report which demanded that the international body act now to call for a moratorium on the development of the so-called Terminator style robots.
Heyns’ statement said that, “[I]f left too long to its own devices, the matter will, quite literally, be taken out of human hands.” Although some nations, including the United States, have a highly advanced drone technology that allows killing at a distance, a human must currently still decide to set the drone into action.
But we’re seemingly only one step away from fully independent killing machines. Automated robots capable of identifying human forms and making their own decisions could be only a few years — or even months — away..
Human Rights Watch (HRW) previously published a report in Nov. 2012 called, “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots.” The brief 50-page report made their case against killer robots on the battlefield who could choose and fire on targets without any input from the human handlers.
“Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far,” said HRW Arms Division director Steve Goose.
The U.N. has now essentially agreed with the HRW statement, adding that they feel that the best moment to act may be right now. The technology is developing rapidly. The United States is already a leader in drone strikes, with several well-publicized successes and misses.
In 2010, Heyn’s predecessor Philip Alston didn’t think the concept of killer robots was worth worrying about until the technology was actually in use. Now Heyns — and by implication the United Nations — see the signs of killer robots coming online so rapidly that they want an immediate moratorium.
There doesn’t seem to be any real technological barrier to developing the devices. Therefore, if society doesn’t want the see the devices on the battlefield, international law will have to step in.
Heyns told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland:
“Time is of the essence. Trying to stop technology is a bit like trying to stop time itself — it moves on.”
Do you think the United Nations should step in to call a halt to killer robot research?
[robot heads photo by Balefire via Shutterstock]