Dozens of countries have been echoing calls to negotiate a treaty to retain “meaningful human control over the use of force”, including 30 states that want to ban fully autonomous weapons, also known as lethal autonomous weapons systems.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) advocacy director Mary Wareham believes the use of autonomous weaponry has emerged as “one of the most pressing threats to humanity” in the world today, as she berated leading nations for failing to take adequate measures to tackle the problem.
The expert has issued a warning that killer robots would potentially be able to “wipe out swathes of the human population with unaccountable attacks.”
Outlining the risks of AI in the battlefield, the advocacy director of HRW arms division wrote in an open letter published by HRW:
“Major military powers are racing to embrace weapons that select and fire on targets without meaningful human control. This is raising the spectre of immoral, unaccountable, largely uncontrollable weapon systems – killer robots. It is also driving fears of widespread proliferation and arms races leading to global and regional instability.”
Sounding the alarm
The expert emphasised that many countries were beginning to sound the alarm on these weapons systems, as in mid-November the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the annual meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) called for a new international treaty to ban killer robots, stating that “machines that have the power and discretion to kill without human intervention are politically unacceptable and morally despicable”.”
Campaign group Campaign to Stop Killer Robots has called for a global treaty completely banning the use of fully autonomous weapons.
Mary Wareham deplored the fact that no progress had been made towards launching negotiations on a treaty to ban or restrict such fully autonomous weapons at the meeting of the CCW at the UN in Geneva.
Instead, states had agreed to spend the following two years developing a “normative and operational framework” to address concerns raised by such weapons systems.
“This vague objective falls far short of what’s needed. The only appropriate response is to launch negotiations to ban killer robots,” insists the expert.
According to Wareham, the public is increasingly behind such a ban.
Almost three in every four people responding to a new poll in 10 European countries want their governments to work for an international treaty prohibiting lethal autonomous weapons systems, Human Rights Watch said earlier in November.
73 per cent of respondents want European states to take action to support a ban on weapon systems that could select and attack targets without meaningful human control.
For example, in the Netherlands, 80 per cent of respondents were in favour of the Dutch government supporting such a ban. The survey, conducted in October, included respondents in Belgium, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Norway, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland.