Ban killer Robocops before it's too late, rights groups say

Autonomous robots would lack proper judgment to use lethal force, according to Human Rights Watch

Serve the public trust, protect the innocent, uphold the law.

Those were RoboCop's directives in the 1987 film about a cyborg police officer who would shoot bad guys while quipping "Your move, creep."

But as science fiction inches closer to fact in the 21st century, rights groups are warning that armed police robots will threaten human rights instead of protect them.

Governments must impose a preemptive ban on fully autonomous weapons before it's too late, even though they don't yet exist, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Harvard Law School said in a report released Monday.

The 26-page Shaking the Foundations: The Human Rights Implications of Killer Robots examines the implications of lethal autonomous robots, which would have the power to decide when to take a human life. It follows discussion about the use of such machines in warfare.

The document speculates that law-enforcement agencies could use killer robots in fighting crime and controlling riots, while governments could deploy them against political opponents and terrorists.

Robots would not be able to replicate human judgment and compassion in critical situations, it says, nor defuse a potentially deadly situation. Specifically, machines would be unable to decide what amount of force is necessary, when it constitutes a last resort and how to apply it in a proportionate manner.

"We found these weapons could violate the most basic human rights -- the right to life, the right to a remedy and the principle of dignity," HRW researcher and Harvard Law School lecturer Bonnie Docherty wrote in an email.

"These rights are the basis for all others."

Fully autonomous weapons could select and fire on targets without meaningful human intervention, she said, adding they are a step beyond existing drones.

Military drones have come under increasing scrutiny for their role in U.S. attacks. According to the UK-based non-profit organization The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, U.S. drone strikes killed more than 2,400 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia over a five-year period under President Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, the notion of fully autonomous machines that can exercise lethal force has drawn increased attention. Writing in The Independent earlier this month about progress in artificial intelligence research, cosmologist Stephen Hawking and colleagues warned, "We are facing potentially the best or worst thing to happen to humanity in history."

Last year, HRW launched its Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which ramped up debate on the technology. Christof Heyns, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, urged a global moratorium on the development of lethal autonomous robots.

On Tuesday, dozens of countries will spend four days discussing such robots at a disarmament conference associated with the Convention on Conventional Weapons, HRW said, adding the U.N. Human Rights Council will take up the topic in June.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags governmentregulationlegislationroboticsGovernment use of ITHuman Rights Watch

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tim Hornyak

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?