News / Science & Technology

Demand Grows for Global Ban on 'Killer Robots'

Demand Grows for Global Ban on 'Killer Robots'i
May 24, 2013 5:11 PM
The United Nations’ special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions has joined calls for a moratorium on so-called ‘killer robots’ - automated weapons systems which critics fear may one day operate independently from human commanders. It may sound like something from a science-fiction movie - but campaigners say the threat is real and the robots already exist. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Henry Ridgwell
United Nations’ special rapporteur on executions has joined calls for a moratorium on so-called ‘killer robots’ - automated weapons systems which critics fear may one day operate independently from human commanders. It may sound like something from a sci-fi movie - but campaigners say the threat is real and the robots already exist.

A human-sized robot joined campaigners outside the British Parliament last month to highlight what they say are the imminent dangers of automated weapons systems - or "killer robots."

Among them was American Jody Williams, who won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her role in the campaign to ban landmines.

There has to be discussion about technology that will totally transform war. And when my country wants to call it a bloodless battlefield I feel enraged," said Williams.

Unmanned combat air vehicles, or drones, have been a part of warfare for several years - and form a key part of the United States’ battle against militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The X-47B drone, currently undergoing flight testing, is one of the world’s most advanced, able to take off from an aircraft carrier. Many countries operate drone programs.

Noel Sharkey, a Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, and Chairman of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, says drones mark the final step in the industrial revolution of war.

“Now the big question is, ‘who is looking at the targets, who is deciding when to fire it?’ We’re only concerned with the kill function being autonomous. So we need proper human supervision to select the targets and engage them," said Sharkey.

Sharkey says currently all drones operate under human supervision.

But supporters argue that technology like drones can eliminate human fallacy from the battlefield.

Professor Christopher Coker of the London School of Economics is author of Warrior Geeks: How 21st Century Technology is Changing the Way We Fight and Think about War.

“One argument is they have greater oversight than anyone’s ever had before. They are actually watching the target for hours at a time sometimes, days at a time, so there’s a certain behavioral profile and on that basis they take the decision on whether to strike or not. But that gives you no greater insight into the character that you’re actually dealing with, and, of course, there is collateral damage as well," said Coker.

The soundtrack to a promotional video from South Korean industrial giant Samsung Techwin for its SGR-A1 sentry robot, which aims to replace border or security guards with intelligent surveillance cameras.

It is armed with a 5.5 mm machine gun - but still controlled by human operators. The campaign group Human Rights Watch says it fears the human element could one day easily be removed.

Again, Professor of Robotics Noel Sharkey.

“The thing about an autonomous robot is you couldn’t hold it accountable. It’s not a moral agent. So who do you hold accountable? Well the problem is that you’re probably going to talk about having the commander being accountable. But that really wouldn’t be fair because there are so many things that can go wrong within a robot," he said.

Campaigners say there is huge interest from industrial corporations in developing so-called killer robots.

The U.N.’s special rapporteur on executions has joined calls for a moratorium on their deployment.

The issue is due to be discussed at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on May 29th.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs