Dutch scientists call for ban on killer robots

November 30, 2020

In an open letter to the Dutch government, more than 150 scientists in the field of artificial intelligence and robotics call for a ban on lethal autonomous weapons, popularly known as killer robots. These are weapons that can select and attack targets without meaningful human control.

The Dutch government is about to review its policy on autonomous weapon systems.

The scientists express their concern about the increasing role of artificial intelligence in the development of weapons, in particular the dangers of weapon systems that can make decisions without meaningful human control. These weapons will lower the barrier to waging war and the fear is that conflicts may escalate more quickly.

Arms race

An arms race to develop and produce autonomous weapons is already underway. There are border security robots which can shoot to kill without human intervention. There are drones which can automatically bomb vehicles based on license plate recognition. This arms race will lead to increasing regional and global tensions.

Technology outpacing rules

Miriam Struyk, PAX director of programmes, says “The call from Dutch scientists in the field of artificial intelligence makes it painfully clear that technical progress is outpacing political safeguards and norm setting. We agree with the urgency of the experts’ appeal. Something must change politically to prevent the further development of these deadly autonomous weapons.”

Call for a ban

The scientists call for the Dutch government to urgently develope an international treaty that would guarantee meaningful human control over the use of force. In other words, a ban on systems that can be used without meaningful human control. As one of the signatories of the public letter, Professor Lambèr Royakkers of Eindhoven University of Technology, describes it, “It is simply inhumane to leave the killing of people to machines.”

The Dutch scientists’ initiative follows similar calls for a ban in Australia, Belgium, Canada and Norway. The letter remains open to further signatories who wish to support the initiative.

Read the Dutch scientists’ open letter here (in Dutch)
Read about PAX’s work on killer robots

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