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article imageExperts and campaigners seek ban of killer robot weapons

By Ken Hanly     Aug 21, 2018 in Technology
Many experts and campaigners are calling for a ban on "killer robots". Autonomous, artificial intelligence powered guns, planes, tanks and ships could fight future wars without being subject to any human control.
Use of totally autonomous weapons in war violates international law
The call for the ban on the weapons is because their use in a war is regarded as breaking international law according to some experts and campaigners. As AI-powered guns, planes, ships and tanks are being developed by nations with high tech, it appears likely some will fight in wars without any human intervention.
International law requires emerging technologies be judged according to the "principle of humanity" and the "dictates of public conscience" according to a new report by Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic.
Bonnie Docherty of Human Rights Watch said: “Permitting the development and use of killer robots would undermine established moral and legal standards. Countries should work together to preemptively ban these weapons systems before they proliferate around the world. The groundswell of opposition among scientists, faith leaders, tech companies, nongovernmental groups, and ordinary citizens shows that the public understands that killer robots cross a moral threshold. Their concerns, shared by many governments, deserve an immediate response.”
Some countries already support a ban on the weapons
Twenty-six countries already support a ban on fully autonomous weapons. Austria, Belgium and China recently joined thousands of AI experts and more than 20 Nobel peace prize laureates in declaring support for a ban.
On the 27 of August more than 70 governments will be meeting in Geneva for the sixth time to discuss the issues raised by fully autonomous weapons.
The talks have been formalized under a major disarmament treaty back in 2017 but there has been frustration at the slow pace of the process. If countries request that negotiation begin in 2019, this could help pave the way for formal approval this November. Almost every country agrees that there should be some human control over the use of force after a meeting this April.
Noel Sharkey, a spokesperson for the Campaign to Ban Killer Robots said: “The idea of delegating life and death decisions to cold compassionless machines without empathy or understanding cannot comply with the Martens clause and it makes my blood run cold. We expect more European countries will step up and that the clamour will get us that key word ‘negotiation’ into the mandate for next year. There is already a growing consensus that human control of weapons systems is crucial in conflict. Some states would prefer to shift from a prohibition protocol to one that requires a positive obligation to ensure meaningful human control, and both amount to the same humanitarian law.” Prof. Sharkey is featured on the appended video.
Use of autonomous weapons will soon be widespread
High-ranking military officials claim that the use of fully autonomous weapons will be widespread in just a matter of years. The weapons would select and fire at targets without any meaningful human interventions.
Already at least 381 partly autonomous weapons and military robotic systems have been deployed or are now being developed in 32 different countries. These include France, Israel, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S.
There are reports that Russia opposes the ban on fully autonomous weapons along with various other countries including the United States. These countries could try to block and further negotiations towards a ban.
The Martens Clause in international law
Many think that the use of fully autonomous weapons in a war theater would violate what is called the Martens Clause which is described by Wikipedia as follows: "The Martens Clause (pronounced /mar'tɛnz/) was introduced into the preamble to the 1899 Hague Convention II – Laws and Customs of War on Land...The clause took its name from a declaration read by Friedrich Martens,.. the Russian delegate at the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899. It reads as follows":
Until a more complete code of the laws of war is issued, the High Contracting Parties think it right to declare that in cases not included in the Regulations adopted by them, populations and belligerents remain under the protection and empire of the principles of international law, as they result from the usages established between civilized nations, from the laws of humanity and the requirements of the public conscience.
— Convention with respect to the laws of war on land (Hague II), 29 July 1899.[
Although the clause did not appear in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 it has been included in the additional protocols of 1977.
A Human RIghts Watch report says: "This report shows how fully autonomous weapons, which would be able to select and engage targets without meaningful human control, would contravene both prongs of the Martens Clause: the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience. To comply with the Martens Clause, states should adopt a preemptive ban on the weapons’ development, production, and use."
More about autonomous weapons, kiler robots, Human rights watch
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