So you thought a Terminator-like future of metal machines mowing each other down on battlefields sounded pretty cool, did you?
Well, wipe that smile off your face, fleshy one. Killer robots are a real threat to our future and must be outlawed now, according to a campaign launched in London on Tuesday by five international NGOs, led by Human Rights Watch.
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots — yes, that is its real name, and you can find its website here — calls for a comprehensive ban on the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons. The launch event came a month in advance of a UN report on the subject, set to be delivered to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on May 27.
“Killer robots would cross moral and legal boundaries, and should be rejected as repugnant to the public conscience,” said Human Rights Watch’s Arms Division Director Steve Goose. “Lethal armed robots that could target and kill without any human intervention should never be built.”
The campaign brought out its big guns for a press event at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster: Jody Williams, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and Dr. Noel Sharkey, an artificial intelligence expert from Sheffield University.
Undermining the message slightly, they also brought the cute-looking 1950s-style sci-fi robot pictured above. What, no T-1000?
Still, the campaign is in earnest, and Sharkey ticked off many reasons why he fears killer robots in our future: the fact that the Pentagon is currently hiring more drone operators than actual pilots, for example, and the building of its X47B unmanned plane, which works like a drone on steroids.
But Sharkey didn’t single out U.S. research efforts; he fears this is a global problem. “There are a lot of people very excited about this technology in China, Russia, Israel,” he told the Guardian, “very excited at what is set to become a multibillion-dollar industry. This is going to be big, big money … We won’t hear about it until China has sold theirs to Iran.”
“I think we are already there,” Sharkey told reporters at the event. “If you asked me to go and make an autonomous killer robot today, I could do it. I could have you one here in a few days.”
A slightly bemused UK government spokesman told Reuters that “there are no plans to replace skilled military personnel with fully autonomous systems.”
For a little light reading, try the Human Rights Watch 50-page report on the subject, Losing Humanity: the Case Against Killer Robots.