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UN report says killer bots could fight WAR WITHOUT END

Moratorium proposed on development and use of lethal autonomous robots

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The United Nations has called for the establishment of an international body to set guidelines for the development and use of lethal autonomous robotics (LARs), lest such machines go on a never-ending killing spree that plunges humanity into perpetual war.

Judge for yourself if we're being colourful or exaggerating by reading the Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns (PDF), the subject of this story.

Tabled yesterday at a meeting of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the document says “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.”

Such weapons aren't yet in operation, the report says - though that would seem to be an odd view to take.

Among those devices are “The Samsung Techwin surveillance and security guard robots, deployed in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, detect targets through infrared sensors” and can be set to “automatic mode”. Now we know where all that hand-and-eyeball-movement-detection software in the Galaxy S 4 came from.

The report worries that it won't be long before LARs become prevalent, as waging war without putting one's own troops in harm's way will be very attractive to strategists and could therefore lead to the following scenario:

“Tireless war machines, ready for deployment at the push of a button, pose the danger of permanent (if low-level) armed conflict, obviating the opportunity for post-war reconstruction.”

The report does also point out that LARs might make war a little less uncivilised, as they “would not act out of revenge, panic, anger, spite, prejudice or fear.” Nor would robots torture, unless programmed to, or rape.

Those observations are among the few upsides identified in the report, which finds that LARs are not compatible with international humanitarian or human rights laws and therefore makes the following recommendation:

“The Human Rights Council should call on all States to declare and implement national moratoria on at least the testing, production, assembly, transfer, acquisition, deployment and use of LARs until such time as an internationally agreed upon framework on the future of LARs has been established.”

That council is meeting from now until June 14th and has discussed the report, but is yet to vote on it or agree to its recommendations at the time of writing. ®

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