News / USA

    Human Rights Watch Campaigns Against 'Killer Robots'

    An undated U.S. Air Force image shows a MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft.
    An undated U.S. Air Force image shows a MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft.
    Selah Hennessy
    Technology is moving fast when it comes to "autonomous systems" - intelligent machines that perform tasks with little or no human guidance.

    In modern warfare, drones and other unmanned vehicles are playing an increasing role, with militaries embracing a technology that they say makes war safer and more effective. But human rights campaigners fear what might be to come - fully autonomous weapons that could select and engage targets without human intervention - and they want a new global treaty to stop that from happening.

    An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket near the southern town of Sderot November 15, 2012.An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket near the southern town of Sderot November 15, 2012.
    x
    An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket near the southern town of Sderot November 15, 2012.
    An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket near the southern town of Sderot November 15, 2012.
    In Israel, the country's missile defense system, the Iron Dome, autonomously senses the threat of an incoming rocket and sends a warning to an operator, who then gives the command to fire a missile.

    During the recent cross-border violence between Israel and Gaza, Israeli officials said the defense system had an 80-90 percent success rate.

    Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, have also played a growing military role, especially in U.S. campaigns.

    They provide surveillance, identify targets, and can deliver lethal force - but only if an operator gives the go ahead.

    But David Mepham, the United Kingdom director of Human Rights Watch, said within decades technological advances could write the human operator out of the equation.

    "Drones are not fully autonomous weapons," Mepham said. "They involve human intervention in terms of their targeting and the decision to strike, but that has been an increasing trend in the way Western militaries, in particular, have been going in recent years. This will be several technological steps beyond that. It will be a weapons system that takes the human beings out of the loop."

    Human Rights Watch has jointly published a report with the Harvard Law School's International Rights Clinic arguing that within 30 years militaries could be armed with autonomous "killer robots."

    They said such weapons would be inconsistent with international humanitarian law and would increase the risk to civilians during armed conflict.

    In order to prevent a move in that direction, the campaigners are pushing for a global deal that would prevent the use of such weapons, similar to agreements banning the use of landmines and cluster bombs.

    "One of the things that holds us back from barbarism in contexts of war is this distinction between combatants and civilians," said Mepham. "And we are worried about a robotic weapon of the future not being able to tell the difference between a child holding out an ice cream and someone holding a weapon."

    The U.S. and other militaries have said they have no plans to remove human supervision over the decision to use lethal force, despite advances in technology.

    But Britain-based independent security analyst Hugo Rosemont said there should be a public discussion around the future use of autonomous technology, and not only with regard to its military potential.

    "There also needs to be a public discussion around some of the wider applications, such as in the use of disaster management and humanitarian relief," said Rosemont. "These technologies can be deployed and have been in those circumstances, and that should be part of the wider discussion in what we think of as autonomy."

    He said robots could well do the world plenty of good in the years to come. France sent remote controlled robots to Japan to help contain the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year - just one job better left to machines.

    You May Like

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Spanish Warrants Point to Russian Govt. Links to Organized Crime

    Links to several Russians, some of them reputedly close Putin associates, backed by ‘very strong evidence,’ Spanish judge says

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    Iraq needs stable, central government to push back against Islamic State, US says, but others warn that Baghdad may not have unified front any time soon

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora