The Right to Peace: Stop Killer Robots

Ploughshares News

The theme for the 2018 International Day of Peace (Friday, Sept. 21)  is The Right to Peace – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70. 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on Dec. 10, 1948, to recognize “the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human race.”

To honour this year’s theme Project Ploughshares will present, each day this week, an aspect of the work we do, work that is rooted in the belief that every human being has a right live in peace and security.

Read Monday’s post on Nuclear Disarmament

Warning from tech experts

“Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare [after gunpowder and nuclear weapons]. Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at time scales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.”

This dire warning comes from a 2017 open letter signed by115 tech experts, including SpaceEx CEO Elon Musk and Alphabet’s artificial intelligence expert, Mustafa Suleyman.

Since the publication of that letter, more than 2,400 tech professionals have formally pledged “neither [to] participate in nor support the development, manufacture, trade, or use of lethal autonomous weapons.” Their statement, issued in July 2018, also calls on private firms and governments to follow suit.

But countries with high-tech militaries, particularly the United States, China, Israel, South Korea, Russia, and the United Kingdom are developing autonomous systems for military applications.  At present, close to 381 partly autonomous systems have been deployed or are being developed in 12 countries.

The legal and humanitarian issues

Click on image to download a one-page informational graphic on Killer Robots

In a fully autonomous weapons system (AWS), there is no significant human input over critical decisions, such as the decision to target and kill people. After being programmed, the weapons system takes action on its own.

Because humanitarian law was created to be applied to human beings, it is not at all clear who would be held legally responsible in the event of an attack by an autonomous weapons system—the manufacturer, programmer, commander, or even the robot itself.

Campaign to Stop Killer Robots

Since 2015, Project Ploughshares has been a part of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a growing coalition of 76 nongovernmental organizations in 32 countries working to pre-emptively ban weapons systems that, once activated, would select and attack targets without human intervention.

As part of this work, Ploughshares staff attended the most recent meeting of states parties to the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva this August. At the CCW, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots issued a statement urging states parties to heed calls “to begin negotiations on a new treaty to retain human control over weapons systems or prohibit lethal autonomous weapons.”

Thus far, 26 countries, including Austria, Brazil, and China, have called for a ban.

More information

Should Canada ban killer robots?
The ‘Black Mirror’ spectre and autonomous weapons
Should you worry about Killer Robots?
Unintended consequences and malicious uses of AI
Human-less or human more?
Algorithms are not impartial

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