Robotics expert calls for regulation of military robots

A robotics expert from the University of Sheffield has called for new controls on military robots.

Speaking at an expert workshop for the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) in Berlin last week, Professor Noel Sharkey, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Computer Science, discussed the pressing dangers posed by the rapid development of armed tele-operated and autonomous robot systems.  

Professor Sharkey co-founded ICRAC in Sheffield in September with experts from Australia, the US, Germany and the UK. The conference in Berlin saw its first major international event bringing together government officials, representatives of international human rights organisations and NGOs, defence and strategy analysts, arms control experts, military officers, philosophers, scientists and engineers from several countries to explore the dangers to humanity posed by robot weapons.  

The threats of military robots include the dangers to civilians in war, their potential to undermine international law and human rights, and to lead to accidental wars or new arms races. In addition to worries that robots may be used as weapons in space or be armed with nuclear weapons, Professor Sharkey expressed serious concerns about the inability of automated robotic systems to discriminate between combatants and civilians, and that these new technologies could make it difficult to determine the moral and legal responsibility for any atrocities committed in war.  

The meeting concluded with an approved statement from the majority of the group on substantive issues concerning the regulation and control of armed military robots including a prohibition on the further development of armed autonomous robots and the setting of restrictions on armed tele-operated such as the Predator and Reaper drones for applications such as targeted killings in sovereign territories not at war.  

Professor Sharkey said: “I am delighted with the meeting. At last the international conversation is beginning on how we should control armed robots. Although there was not a consensus of opinion on all of the issues, there was agreement that state actors need to take steps to prevent the indiscriminate use of armed robots.  

“Everyone acknowledged that these systems pose ethical and strategic problems especially with regard to their effect on civilian casualties and their rapid proliferation.”

Further information:
International Committee for Robot Arms Control

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