TECH
12/05/2014 06:54 BST | Updated 12/05/2014 07:00 BST

UN To Debate Killer Robots At Landmark Meeting, Because Technology Is Terrifying

The United Nations is to debate the legality, necessity and usefulness of killer robots.

But the informal meeting will not culminate in binding policy, meaning that the future use of deadly automatic machines is still to some extent open.

The meeting will be held at the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

Two experts -- Prof Ronald Arkin and Prof Noel Sharkey -- will debate the use of robots that can detect and fire upon the enemy automatically, and a paper based on their discussion will be presented to the CCW in November. The board agenda of the meeting can be read in full here.

killer robots

The meeting, to be held this week, will be the first time that killer robots - or 'Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems' under the UN's terminology - are officially debated by the CCW.

Robots which can identify and kill the enemy on their own do not currently exist. All drones and another remote-controlled devices still require human intervention to confirm the target and operate any on-board weapons.

It is thought that several militaries or companies are theoretically close to being able to build killer robots, but none have. Several - including the British MoD - say are not even attempting it.

But while they do not yet exist, groups have already started campaigning for a ban saying that once developed their use will be inevitable, and damaging.

Prof Sharkey is a co-founder and member of the Campaign Against Killer Robots, one of the most prominent groups opposed to their development. He told the BBC that unless nations discuss killer robots openly, the technology will remain "a big risk to humanity". You can read Sharkey's position in these two articles:

On the other side, Prof Arkin argues that while killer robots should not be employed until they are more accurate and reliable than human fighters, once that point is reached it would be unethical to put soldiers at risk when robots could do the same job. He argues such robots could mean lower risks for non-combatants, in theory. His position can be read in full here:

"As technology races ahead, governments need to engage now in intensive discussions on the potential dangers of fully autonomous weapons,” said Mary Wareham, arms division advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

"Deliberations about killer robots need to include nongovernmental groups, and be underpinned by a clear sense of urgency and purpose if they are to result in concrete action."