Feeds

Landmine charity: Ban the killer robots before it's too late!

They're already here, chum - look around

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Comment A London-based anti landmine and cluster bomb charity has now widened its remit and is calling for a moratorium on the use of killer robots.

"Our concern is that humans, not sensors, should make targeting decisions," said Richard Moyes of Landmine Action, quoted by New Scientist. "We don't want to move towards robots that make decisions about combatants and noncombatants."

It seems that Moyes and Landmine Action came up with the idea of a killer-robot ban following recent high-profile commments made by famed robopocalypse media-Cassandra Professor Noel Sharkey.

Prof Sharkey, perhaps best known for his role as a judge in TV's Robot Wars, is nonetheless firmly against any kind of actual robot wars. He has repeatedly warned of the coming danger to humanity posed by unfettered, soulless machine warriors in "a robot arms race that will be difficult to stop ... I can imagine a little girl being zapped because she points her ice cream at a robot to share".

On other occasions Sharkey has seemed to offer a different perspective on military death-droids, saying "it would be great if all the military were robots and they could fight each other". Overall, however, he is seen as the man to go to if you need a automatamageddon quote or soundbite.

Meanwhile, Moyes' group has decided to join Sharkey and campaign against any kind of military machines which would make their own targeting decisions. Moyes draws a parallel with current tank-buster munitions, deployed above a target area by artillery shell or airdrop. Lately, this sort of weapon will often detonate itself harmlessly in midair if it can't find anything it thinks is a tank; but Landmine Action believes this is bad, as the decision is not made by a human. Their plan would be a ban on that whole class of weapons, and a ban - as they see it, a pre-emptive ban - on killer robots.

Sharkey, Moyes et al are a bit behind the fair on this one. Killer robots within their definition - automatic systems which make combatant/noncombatant targeting decisions for themselves - have been around for some time.

Anti-shipping missiles have existed for decades which can be sent off over the horizon and look around for a target based on various criteria. Robot gun and missile anti-air installations are often designed for only basic human input - eg, turning a key to activate them - from which point they will sweep the skies of anything which looks dangerous to them.

Landmines both manufactured and improvised, far from being uniformly indiscriminate, will often be set up to attack specifically combatant targets. This is most commonly achieved by the charge being set to go off only if the road is subjected to the enormous weight of armoured vehicles, rather than pedestrians or mere civilian wheels.

Indeed, this debate is at least a century old. Sea mines have been required since the Hague Convention of 1907 to autonomously discriminate between legitimate and non-legitimate targets. Under the convention it is considered OK to use moored contact sea mines in publicised, warned minefields - provided they disarm themselves if their mooring cables come loose*. In effect, a "killer robot" mine decides whether or not a ship bumping into it is a legitimate target (that is, one acceptably near to the location of its own mooring sinker) - without human involvement. More modern magnetic/acoustic/pressure mines are often set up specifically to look for the signatures of specific types or sizes of vessel - generally seeking to pick out certain classes of enemy warship.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Bono apologises for iTunes album dump
Megalomania, generosity and FEAR of irrelevance drove group to Apple deal
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
Doctor Who's Flatline: Cool monsters, yes, but utterly limp subplots
We know what the Doctor does, stop going on about it already
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
Arab States make play for greater government control of the internet
Nerds told to get lost in last-minute power grab bid at UN meeting
'Cowardly, venomous trolls' threatened with TWO-YEAR sentences for menacing posts
UK government: 'Taking a stand against a baying cyber-mob'
Zippy one-liners, broken promises: Doctor Who on the Orient Express
Series finally hits stride, but Clara's U-turn is baffling
Don't bother telling people if you lose their data, say Euro bods
You read that right – with the proviso that it's encrypted
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.