Majority wants limits on killer robots

September 3, 2018

A majority of states wants to take concrete steps against so-called killer robots. That became clear during last week’s talk at the United Nations in Geneva. However, a small number of states are still against taking such measures.

Last week, two concrete proposals for how to deal with killer robots were made. France and Germany proposed a political declaration, while Austria, Brazil and Chile put forward a concrete proposal to negotiate a ‘legally binding instrument’, in other words, a treaty, which would guarantee meaningful human control on selecting and attacking targets.

PAX is pleased that proposals enjoying broad support are now on the table. This shows that the large majority of states see the need to regulate killer robots. “But that doesn’t mean we can endlessly discuss options,” says PAX’s Daan Kayser, who was in Geneva.

In the way
Unfortunately, a small group of states say it is too early to take any concrete measures. This group includes Australia, Israel, Russia, the United States and South Korea. Since decisions are made by consensus, this group can significantly delay the process. PAX considers this cause for concern, since the technological is developing rapidly.

This was the second week this year in which the UN hosted talks on killer robots. During talks in April, it was already clear that the vast majority of states consider human control over weapons systems and the use of violence as the core point of the discussion. Now it’s time to take the next step towards concrete measures.

PAX’s role
During the talks last week, PAX spoke with a large number of states on the need for an outright ban. PAX coordinates with other NGOs from around the world with the network Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. In a statement, PAX emphasized that time is of the essence in banning killer robots.

There were also panel discussions, including one dealing with ethical objections against killer robots. This is an important issue for PAX, since we think an algorithm should not be able to ´decide´ between life and death. During the panel discussion, a Google employee said we should not allow killer robots to be made in the first place. A representative from the Future of Life Institute called on states to pay attention to the warning scientists and technology companies made recently about these weapons.

What now?
For PAX, a treaty is the only option which adequately addresses the legal, ethical and security concerns around killer robots. PAX hopes that at the UN General Assembly in November states adopt a mandate for formal negotiations to start in 2019. As was made clear last week, the group of countries supporting a ban is growing and a ban looks more and more realistic. Daan Kayser says, “It’s not just that a ban looks more and more achievable. A ban is essential to protect humanity from these kinds of weapons.”


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