News / Science & Technology

Human Rights Watch Campaigns Against 'Killer Robots'

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.

Military systems that can operate unmanned are a growing component of modern warfare.  

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 to 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, says within decades technological advances could write the human operator out of the equation.

"Drones are not fully autonomous weapons.  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," Mepham said.

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 say 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. 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," Mepham:said.

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 says 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. 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," Rosemont said.

He says 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

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

ILO: Women Still Losing Out in Global Work Place

International Labor Organization says women are marginally better off now than they were 20 years ago More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
November 25, 2012 11:36 AM
"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," said David Mepham, the
United Kingdom director of Human Rights Watch.

Most of today's autonomous machines make decisions based on human
knowledge. If robots cannot tell the difference, neither can
humans. Stop making restrictions on technology and put your
efforts on reducing conflicts between humans please.

by: musawi melake from: -
November 24, 2012 9:50 AM
Protetes like these are simply intended to divert the attention of the genuine People concerned, for the so called Human-Rights-Watch is another means of the West, especially the US, to futher the Foreign policy. They sit idle while atrocities are being comitted and People die, when the perpetrators are the Western Powers or their Jewish coolies and then cry foul. Real change will only come when cheep open-source Technologies become available that Challenge, if not stop alltogether, these kinds of sumary-executions. If these kinds of acts are done by some third-world state or outfit With whatever available at their disposal, then the West shouts, but in reality the street executions are no different to these drone killings. Ony the Technology being used.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Studentsi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
March 05, 2015 9:04 PM
The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More