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article imageOp-Ed: UN vs. killer robots - Facts are looking tricky

By Paul Wallis     Jun 3, 2013 in Technology
Sydney - The “killer robot” idea isn’t exactly new. What’s new is that it’s now quite possible. Remotely controlled and autonomous robots are working right now. They even have their own acronym, “LARs”, or Lethal Autonomous Robots.
The UN is busily trying to control LARs. The likelihood is that they’ll stop them the same way they stopped the arms trade. There’s no Diana and no thousands of maimed kids around to add a bit of weight to the argument like with mines.
Sydney Morning Herald:
"The possible introduction of LARs (lethal autonomous robots) raises far-reaching concerns about the protection of life during war and peace," Mr Heyns (UN special rapporteur Christof Heyns) said. "If this is done, machines and not humans, will take the decision on who is alive or dies."
Mr Heyns presented a report on his research and called for a worldwide moratorium on the production and deployment of such machines, while nations figured out the knotty legal and ethical issues.
Human Rights Watch also wants LARs stopped, appropriately enough:
These fully autonomous weapons, sometimes called 'killer robots', do not exist yet. But already many robotic systems with various degrees of autonomy and lethality are being developed or used by nations with high-tech militaries such as the United States, China, Israel, South Korea, Russia, and the United Kingdom. It is clear that these and, perhaps, other countries are moving toward systems that would give full combat autonomy to machines.
Not quite right. The basic structural forms for killer robots do exist, if not operational models that anyone’s talking about. There are multiple platform options, including space-based weapons platforms.
There are a few other problems:
 Modern armies are extremely expensive.
 Robots are cheap, and don’t need body bags.
 Some countries can produce robots very easily.
 Robots can carry any weapon.
 There are no ethics in a real war.
 Abusers of international law are hardly likely to pay attention to the UN.
 Nor are terrorists.
 People don’t mind having a weapon that takes their risks for them.
 The mere fact of a ban doesn’t mean anyone will observe it.
 Non-state entities can’t be forced to observe a ban.
 Converting machines into robots isn’t all that difficult, so “ad hoc” LARs are quite possible.
 The whole of military science has been based on the principles of cheap kill for decades.
 A no-risk weapon is about as cheap as you can get.
 Wars like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan make robots look like a good option.
The UN is looking at a clash of priorities as much as any sort of law or moral issue. The ability to fight a war is likely to take precedence over morality.
The gun was the first truly “automatic” killing weapon. Ethical theory wasn’t part of the development program.
There’s now a site, a conference and a campaign in the UK.
The US Department of Defense has established a protocol to ensure humans are in the loop for automated weapons systems. The phrase “in the loop” is getting beaten to death in the reporting.
Knowledge base? What knowledge base?
The knowledge base for addressing LARs seems to be almost primitive. What’s truly sick is that the old “science fiction comes to life” routine seems to be the standard of media reporting. They’re making it look like these things are some sort of miraculous new technology.
So much for old media being up to speed with anything. Science fiction is coming to life on an almost hourly basis, and somebody thinks this is new? As for military technology, this idea was new 50 years ago, but if you’ve been paying any attention at all, this is where military systems have been going since then.
New fifth generation fighters are called fly by wire because they’re flown by systems as much as by pilots. There are vast numbers of system dynamics in any modern weapon system which aren’t people-based.
Nor is the LARs debate representing the risks very well. These robots are the latest, and you can expect generations of them, including nuke, chemical and bioweapon-capable robots. They’ll create a new arms race.
There are countermeasures available against LARs, but they’re complex and require some heavy duty technology to be field-worthy to work.
Chances of stopping it? Nil.
Options for stopping it? Peace.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Killer robots, LARs, stopkillerrobotsorg, US Dept Defense automated weapons protocols
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