A report produced by Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic raises questions about technological strides in military weaponry that could lead to a global overabundance of autonomous killing machines.
The report “Losing Humanity” warns of “killer robots” and urges “an international treaty that would absolutely prohibit the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons.”
The advocacy groups discuss weapons that could have the ability to choose and fire on targets without human intervention in the report, arguing that accountability for mass casualties would be lessened in more extreme ways than it has with the advent of drone warfare.
“Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far,” said Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch. “Human control of robotic warfare is essential to minimizing civilian deaths and injuries.
Currently, fully autonomous weapons do not exist, and major global powers have not made a decision to deploy them. But the United States, China, Germany, Israel, South Korea, Russia and the United Kingdom are working to develop precursors that suggest a push toward greater autonomy for machines on the battlefield in the near future. According to the report, some experts predict that full autonomy for weapons could be achieved in 20 to 30 years; others think it will be even sooner.
The report suggests that the lack of potential for compassion in weapon-wielding autonomous robots could possibly make them a favorite weapon of tyrants who could use them against their own people.
“It is essential to stop the development of killer robots before they show up in national arsenals,” Goose said. “As countries become more invested in this technology, it will become harder to persuade them to give it up.”