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Rights group calls for ban on armed ‘killer robots’

killer robots taranis.jpg

Taranis, a 2010 the prototype of an unmanned combat aircraft of the future. Named after the Celtic god of thunder, the concept explored the possibility of autonomous combat vehicles. (AP Photo/BAE Systems, Ministry of Defence, ho)

The government should ban autonomous, gun-weilding robots before it’s too late, Human Rights Watch is warning.

The group, which is dedicated to protecting human rights against oppression and discrimination, issued the warning in a 50-page report titled “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots.” It argues that bans are needed against fully autonomous drones and sentry robots under development in China, Germany, the United States, Israel, and more. Such robots lack human qualities needed to keep them in check, the group says.

'It's essential to stop the development of killer robots.'

- Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch

“Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch. “Human control of robotic warfare is essential to minimizing civilian deaths and injuries.”

The report, jointly published by the rights group and the Harvard Law School’s International Rights Clinic, calls for an international treaty that would prohibit further development of such weapons.

Fully autonomous weapons do not yet exist, Human Rights Watch noted, and major powers including the United States, have not made a decision to deploy them. But such high tech weapons are clearly under development.

Many experts predict that full autonomy for weapons could be achieved in 20 to 30 years or sooner, the group said.

“It is essential to stop the development of killer robots before they show up in national arsenals,” Goose said. “As countries become more invested in this technology, it will become harder to persuade them to give it up.”