UN to call for moratorium on ‘killer robots’

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

A United Nations report that will be presented at the next Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva will call for a moratorium on “killer robots” — and, no, this doesn’t include drones.

The kinds of robots that the Human Rights Council will debate are machines that are “programmed in advance to take out people or targets” and “operate autonomously on the battlefield,” reports the BBC.

The UN report raises concerns that “lethal autonomous robots” (LARs) can’t be held legally accountable for their actions and argues that robots should not have the final decision of life and death over humans. The report recommends a moratorium on LARs and the creation of a high-level panel to come up with international policies for the issue.

Supporters of LARs argue that they could save lives by reducing the number of soldiers that will be put in harms way, but critics counter that there are serious moral and ethical dilemmas about using robots to wage war.

The BBC notes that robots cannot be prosecuted for war crimes or otherwise be held responsible for their actions: “Who takes the final decision to kill? Can a robot really distinguish between a military target and civilians?”

“While drones still have a ‘human in the loop’ who takes the decision to use lethal force, LARs have on-board computers that decide who should be targeted,” said Christof Heyns, UN expert on summary executions.

“The possible introduction of LARs raises far-reaching concerns about the protection of life during war and peace,” he added.

According to the BBC, killer robots are being developed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel, but none have been used in combat yet.

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