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

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    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.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.