Disarmament and arms control have not featured prominently, if at all, in mandate letters to Canada’s foreign ministers in many years. But at the end of 2019, Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne was given a new mandate to “advance international efforts to ban the development and use of fully autonomous weapons systems.”
It sounds like the stuff of science fiction. Enabled by significant advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, fully autonomous weapons systems with the ability to select targets and employ lethal force with no human involvement—also known as killer robots—may soon emerge.
Police forces were not forthcoming about their use of Clearview AI and facial-recognition technology in general, until a February report revealed that Canada was the largest market for Clearview AI technology outside the United States. The technology seems to have spread quietly, sometimes without the knowledge of those in charge.
Canada is certainly capable of promoting global norms, with a federal government commitment to fund AI research, an active AI community, and a rapidly developing tech sector. Expert help is available from leading AI researchers in Canadian universities and industries. Research institutes and civil-society groups also have expertise on various applications of AI.
The question now is what happens next and how will the mandate be implemented when UN discussions on this issue resume in June. While fully autonomous weapons systems do not yet exist, experts agree that they soon will.
Earlier this year, Amnesty International (AI) released a report, The Hidden US War in Somalia: Civilian Casualties from Air Strikes in Lower Shabelle. According to this report, which explored five incidents, at least 14 civilians had been killed by airstrikes from both manned aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones).
The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research Innovations Dialogue held on August 19 at the UN Office in Geneva sought to address the implications of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, blockchain, and the Internet of Things on arms control and disarmament.
Canada appears to be leading the way in the responsible use of artificial intelligence (AI) with a number of initiatives and guidelines intended to to ensure that AI applications are based on sound reasoning and common values. However, largely absent in its discussions of strategy and risk are military applications of AI—in particular, the growing autonomy of weapons systems. Canada …
Many civil society groups and activists—yes, in Canada, as well as in many other countries—have solid grounds for believing that they have been and are still under surveillance—by national security agencies and now, increasingly, by private entities.
“We are not talking about walking, talking terminator robots that are about to take over the world; what we are worried about is much more looming: conventional weapons systems with autonomy. They are beginning to sneak in.”
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