In the past, we have talked a lot of times about the science of robotics and its applications in our real lives. Creature-like robots, drones and autonomous machines to take over some tasks from humans are not new to this advanced tech world we live in. What is indeed new, however, are the growing worries related to the rise of autonomous war robots.
Yesterday, at Geneva, U.N. representatives met to discuss the fate of futuristic killing machines which may become a reality in the next 20 years. This is a historical premiere, as so far, killer robots were the exclusive concern of science – fiction movies. But not anymore! Politicians, organizations and scientist spoke about the dangers such futuristic killing machines could unleash upon the entire human race, considering that detailed laws and regulations should be created immediately.
What seems to be the problem? If you saw the latest RoboCop movie, it’s easy to understand: how can we leave killing decisions in the hands of mindless machines that are not provided with ethics, morals, emotions and human instinct? How can we leave ourselves at the mercy of entire armies of Terminators? And, most importantly, how will the human race survive if these killer robots are unleashed in the world? These questions stirred the waters and almost split the U.N. representatives into two opposing factions. There are a lot of people concerned with the “autonomy” and “decision making” of such robots. We already have a “Terminator” among us, namely the
Samsung sentry robot used in South Korea, with the ability to spot unusual activity, talk to intruders, and, when authorized by a human controller, shoot them.
The authorization of a human controller seems to be the issue here. The ones who support the development of robotic military technologies say that the future machines could be used for pacifist purposes, for protection and for saving millions of human lives. The opposing faction is concerned with ethics and morals. In the words of Pakistan’s U.N. ambassador Zamir Akram,
In the absence of any human intervention, such weapons in fact fundamentally change the nature of war,
warning the assembly that such futuristic killing machines could jeopardize global security and peace. His thoughts were shared by other participants to the meeting. Kathleen Lawand, head of the ICRC’s arms unit made a very clear point:
There is a sense of deep discomfort with the idea of allowing machines to make life-and-death decisions on the battlefield with little or no human involvement.
It is indispensable to maintain human control over the decision to kill another human being, German Ambassador Michael Biontino told the meeting. This principle of human control is the foundation of the entire international humanitarian law.
In a world shaken by conflicts in many of its areas and heavily inclined towards disarmament, the issue of futuristic killing machines becoming a reality in warfare is indeed uncomfortable. These talks won’t stop here. A future discussion on these matters is scheduled for November.