Activists Call for International Ban on Fully Autonomous Weapons

    15 December, 2013


    From VOA Learning English, this is the Technology Report.

    An international coalition is calling for a ban on fully autonomous weapons known as "killer robots." The 45-member coalition proposed the ban to governments last month at a meeting of the United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons in Geneva, Switzerland.

    The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots wants the U.N. organization to add fully autonomous weapons to its work program in 2014.

    Scientists have yet to develop fully autonomous killer robots. However, technology is moving toward increasing autonomy. Such weapons would identify and attack targets without human assistance.

    Activists Call for International Ban on Fully Autonomous Weapons
    A robot is pictured in front of the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey as part of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots in London, April 23, 2013.

    Noel Sharkey is a founding member of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. He also chairs the International Committee for Robot Arms Control. Mr Sharkey says autonomous weapons should be banned.

    "The big problem for me is that there are no robot systems that can discriminate between civilian targets and military targets unless they are very, very clearly marked in some, the idea of having robots going out into the field and selecting their own targets is to me, is just horrifying. It cannot work, " said Sharkey.

    Activists say robotic systems with different degrees of autonomy are already in use by Britain, Israel, the United States and South Korea. They believe China and Russia are also moving toward these systems.

    Steve Goose is a member of the campaign, he also directs the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch. He warns the killer robots will become a reality unless governments act now to ban them. He says the world should oppose the weapons system that would be able to identify and attack targets mechanically.

    He believes such a system crosses a basic moral and ethical line.

    "Robotic weapons systems should not make life and death decisions on the battlefield. That is simply inherently wrong. So, they need to be banned on ethical grounds. We think they also need to be banned on legal grounds. If and when a killer robot commits a war crime, violates international humanitarian law...who would be held accountable, who would be responsible for that violation?" said Goose.

    He adds that in recent months, fully autonomous weapons have gone from a little known issue to one that is commanding worldwide attention. He says that since last May, 34 countries have openly expressed concern about the dangers the weapons present.

    Mr Goose notes that in 1995, the Convention on Conventional Weapons added a new policy to the treaty, which barred the use of blinding lasers. He believes killer robots could become the second such weapon to be banned before it is ever used in battle.

    And that is the Technology Report from VOA Learning English. For more about our reports, visit our website at'm June Simms.