Killer robots: the race for Autonomous Weapons

From New Internationalist Easier English Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Killer robots: the race for Autonomous Weapons


We need to stop automated violence now. Noel Sharkey writes about the newest arms race. Pictures by Simon Kneebone.

Question: Who is stupid enough to give the power of decisions on life and death to weapons? Answer: America, Russia, China, and Israel. And they are only the leaders in Killer Robots, the new kind of Autonomous Weapons Systems (AWS). That’s why a big group of organizations began the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. It wants the UN to write an international agreement to stop them.

No, it’s not 2050. It’s happening now. New weapons to look for targets and kill them without human help.

At the start of the new millennium, the US looked at robotics technology and saw the military use for AWS. The US army, navy, and air force were very interested to make sure America was ahead now that other nations had missile technology.

Soon other nations were worried about what they heard and began thinking about making these weapons. By 2006, the US Department of Defence made the first CRUSHER. It was a 6,000 kg autonomous combat vehicle with six wheels. Then around the world there were autonomous ships, submarines, ground combat vehicles, and fighter jets. It was the start of the race for AWS. Now 19 nations are asking the UN to stop it immediately. But the supporters of the weapons tried to slow down an international agreement with a number of myths or false ideas.

Here are five of them.

Five myths about AWS


Picture by Simon Kneebone

Myth #1

AWS are better than human soldiers because they won’t get tired, they won’t get angry, they won’t want revenge, and they won’t rape.

But this is also true with a Kalashnikov. Like the Kalashnikov, AWS are powerful new weapons that angry people can use for revenge or to catch women for rape. And they cannot see the difference between soldiers, insurgents, and civilians. And they cannot think about the right response to the use of violent force.


Picture by Simon Kneebone

Myth #2

AWS will only be in use if they follow the laws of war.

But think about bombing from the air – the most indiscriminate weapon of World War Two. After President Roosevelt failed to get agreements, he wrote to European leaders in 1939 and asked them to use bombing from the air only for military targets. Well, that didn’t work. Civilians died. Similarly, when there are AWS, there will be no control of their uses.


Picture by Simon Kneebone

Myth #3

We have been using simple Automatic Weapons for years without problems. So what is new?

Many militaries have had weapons that react to military objects such as missiles. But these are fixed in one place and are close to the people who control them. They are very different from mobile machines which can find and kill targets without human operation.


Picture by Simon Kneebone

Myth #4

Stopping AWS will stop new ideas.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is not trying to stop autonomous robots. It is only worried about how they choose targets and the use of violence without human supervision.


Picture by Simon Kneebone

Myth #5

Using AWS will save soldiers’ lives and kill fewer civilians.

There is already an arms race and many nations will have AWS very quickly. Then what? We may have less important reasons for war and there may be accidental wars started automatically AWS.

There is also the non-military use of these weapons for policing and controlling peaceful protests. And what about groups like ISIS who use bad copies of our technologies to make drones? Do we want them to have the technology to kill everyone in a city?

What’s the solution?

Governments need to say no to these myths and think beyond national security. It’s time to look at the bigger picture and see the truth – AWS mean broken global security.

If we must have wars, we must have no civilian casualties. We need to have full human control of all weapons systems and we need to be sure that humans are always responsible for injustices, targets, and accidents.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots asked the UN for a week-long meeting of experts every year since 2014. Now they are asking for meetings of a Group of Government Experts in 2017 to discuss what to do about AWS. Let’s hope they will decide to stop the automation of violent force while we still have time.

We do not have long to do something

In August 2017, 116 robotics and artificial intelligence companies signed a letter to the United Nations. The letter said that killer robots may be the third revolution in war after gunpowder and nuclear bombs. The result will be wars bigger than before and faster than humans can understand. They can be weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent people, and weapons that can be hacked. We do not have long to do something. When this starts, it will be difficult to stop.

It is the first time that AI and robotics companies have done something together about this problem.

Noel Sharkey is professor of AI and robotics at the University of Sheffield, spokesperson of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, Chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control and co-director of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed).[Category: arms]]