Killer robots on the prowl

Anti ‘killer robot’ group blames US and Russia for blocking international consensus

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The US and Russia have been blamed for blocking international consensus on a ‘killer robot’ ban.

A UN-backed conference that has been taking place in the last week saw most countries stating that they would ensure humans stay at the controls of lethal machines.

Other advanced military powers who have blocked a unilateral agreement include South Korea, Israel and Australia. All that could be agreed upon was that “further work” needed to be done on the issue.

Co-ordinator Mary Wareham, of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, spoke after experts from dozens of countries agreed at the UN in Geneva on 10 “possible guiding principles” about lethal automated weapons systems (‘Laws’).

Point two said: “Human responsibility for decisions on the use of weapons systems must be retained since accountability cannot be transferred to machines.”

Wareham said such language was not binding, adding: “It’s time to start laying down some rules now.”

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres welcomed the principles and expressed hope that the countries who signed on “can build upon this achievement”, according to a statement from his spokesman.

Wareham said delegates had just “kicked the can down the road” until the next meeting on Laws in November.

The “usual suspects” including the US, Russia, Israel and South Korea - joined unexpectedly by Australia, she said - were behind an effort to keep the text from being more binding.

“The fact is that it’s the majority that wants it, but you know, it’s the Convention on Conventional Weapons and this is where it’s about consensus and a small minority of states - or even a single one - can hold back the desires of the majority,” Wareham said.

Amandeep Gill, an Indian diplomat who chaired last week’s meeting of experts, expressed satisfaction about the outcome, while cautioning that such systems should not be “anthropomorphised” or attributed with human qualities. He insisted they are not like “Iron Man and Terminator”.

In July 2,400 individuals and 160 companies signed a pledge promising not to assist in the development of lethal autonomous weapons systems, calling on governments to restrict the weapons. 

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