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Killer robots reprieved

killer robots

Robot killing machines are not to be banned, at least not yet.

Despite calls to the contrary, killer robots – those machines which can spot a target and destroy it without the help of a human operator – are not going to be declared persona non gratia, or regulated.

At least that’s the current position of a United Nations body which speaks on such matters.

The United Nations’ Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) is responsible for saying what is acceptable and what is not.

But, at a recent get-together, Amandeep Gill, India’s disarmament ambassador and chair of the meeting, played down suggestions that robots are about to be used as weapons.

He was quoted in the mainstream media as saying: “Ladies and gentlemen, I have news for you: the robots are not taking over the world. Humans are still in charge. I think we have to be careful in not emotionalising or dramatising this issue.”

Fair enough.

And I agree, at least for now. Having just been to another trade show where numerous robots were on their worst behaviour and not working for the crowds, I don’t think they are ready to take over the world.

But, and this is a big but, the UN has to be aware that we are only a few years away from fully functioning autonomous weapons systems and if they are linked with AI (in other words, let the computer figure out who the bad guys are), then we are going to have major problems just around the corner.

At least the UN is starting to think about it. And things may change when they meet for two weeks next year to once again discuss the subject of bans and regulations. Most nations appear to want some form of instrument, which is legally binding, that controls how such sophisticated weapons might be developed and used. And what’s more, how humans must remain in control.

Some countries are taking upon themselves to ban autonomous weapons, but not everyone is so keen. There are countries which are actively developing AI controlled weapons systems.

And many industry experts fear that it will take a major incident (such as an out-of-control robot killing humans), for any bans to be introduced.

But, given human nature, lets guess what’s really going to happen. There will have to be robot weapons systems because once one nation has them, others will have to follow. Imagine the scenario of one nation being able to fight a war with machines and not humans. It’s the nuclear bomb argument all over again. So another arms race in the offing? I think so, no matter what the UN might decide in 2018.