TECH

Campaign To Stop Killer Robots Calls For Pre-Emptive Ban On Autonomous Killers

23/04/2013 08:44 BST | Updated 22/06/2013 10:12 BST

A campaign has launched to stop the creation of killer robots before it's too late.

The Campaign To Stop Killer Robots is calling for pre-emptive bans on drones and other robotic hardware which can autonomously decide to kill an enemy and carry out the act without human intervention.

Such machines do not currently exist, and are not used by any military. All drones used on the battlefield require human intervention to select and fire upon targets.

But the fear is that the technology is either here or not far away in theory, and that unscrupulous governments might decide to implement the feature as a natural 'next step' from remotely piloted machines.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is a global effort to draw attention to that fear, and put regulations in place to stop it being realised.

The campaign's leader is Jody Williams, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for helping to ban anti-personnel landmines.

She told BBC News in an interview: "As people learn about our campaign, they will flock to it. The public conscience is horrified to learn about this possible advance in weapons systems. People don't want killer robots out there."

taranis

Above: BAE's unmanned prototype Taranis combat aircraft, unveiled in 2010, is designed strike distant targets, "even in another continent."

Its steering committee includes the New York-based Human Rights Watch, who last year produced a report on the perceived danger of robotic death machines.

In its report HRW said:

"Fully autonomous weapons do not yet exist, and major powers, including the United States, have not made a decision to deploy them. But high-tech militaries are developing or have already deployed precursors that illustrate the push toward greater autonomy for machines on the battlefield. The United States is a leader in this technological development. Several other countries - including China, Germany, Israel, South Korea, Russia, and the United Kingdom - have also been involved."

Recently Lord Astor, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for the Ministry of Defence, said that the UK has no plans for an autonomous robot killer:

He said in the Lords':

"Such systems are not yet in existence and are not likely to be for many years, if at all. There are currently a limited number of naval defensive systems that could operate in automatic mode, although there would always be naval personnel involved in setting the parameters of any such operation. I must emphasise that any type of weapon system would be used only in strict adherence with international humanitarian law."