In The Terminator, we’ve seen robots killing people who they believe are their enemies. Although that was a sci-fi movie, lately the United Nations (UN) has raised a very vital question – should robots be allowed to take human lives, without direct supervision or command in real world? According to a UN official, robots will not be allowed to kill people.
On May 31, a moratorium on Lethal Autonomous Robots (LARs) was held in Geneva. The UN called for the establishment of an international body to set guidelines for the development and use of Lethal Autonomous Robotics (LARs). Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, compared the situation of autonomous lethal robot weapons with the drones. He said, “With drones, the genie is out of the bottle. With robots the genie is still in the bottle.” He added, “War without reflection is mechanical slaughter.”
Although fully autonomous weapons have not yet been developed, Heyns said that “there is reason to believe that states will, inter alia, seek to use lethal autonomous robotics for targeted killing.” In his 22-page submitted report on “lethal autonomous robots”, he clearly uttered that “LARs refers to robotic weapon systems that, once activated, can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human operator. The important element is that the robot has an autonomous ‘choice’ regarding selection of a target and the use of lethal force.” He also said that the deployment of such robots “may be unacceptable because no adequate system of legal accountability can be devised” and because “robots should not have the power of life and death over human beings.”
His report highlights that despite recent advances, current military technology is still “inadequate” and unable “to understand context.” This makes it difficult for robots to establish whether “someone is wounded and hors de combat” or “in the process of surrendering.” Heyns also added in his report that “a further concern relates to the ability of robots to distinguish legal from illegal orders.”
However, having understood the scenario, Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch said, “The UN report makes it abundantly clear that we need to put the brakes on fully autonomous weapons, or civilians will pay the price in the future. The US and every other country should endorse and carry out the UN call to stop any plans for killer robots in their tracks.”
Officially, governments who are capable of producing Lethal Autonomous Robots are not currently planning to use them.