Ban killer Robocops before it's too late, rights groups say

Autonomous robots would lack proper judgment to use lethal force, according to Human Rights Watch

Serve the public trust, protect the innocent, uphold the law.

Those were RoboCop's directives in the 1987 film about a cyborg police officer who would shoot bad guys while quipping "Your move, creep."

But as science fiction inches closer to fact in the 21st century, rights groups are warning that armed police robots will threaten human rights instead of protect them.

Governments must impose a preemptive ban on fully autonomous weapons before it's too late, even though they don't yet exist, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Harvard Law School said in a report released Monday.

The 26-page Shaking the Foundations: The Human Rights Implications of Killer Robots examines the implications of lethal autonomous robots, which would have the power to decide when to take a human life. It follows discussion about the use of such machines in warfare.

The document speculates that law-enforcement agencies could use killer robots in fighting crime and controlling riots, while governments could deploy them against political opponents and terrorists.

Robots would not be able to replicate human judgment and compassion in critical situations, it says, nor defuse a potentially deadly situation. Specifically, machines would be unable to decide what amount of force is necessary, when it constitutes a last resort and how to apply it in a proportionate manner.

"We found these weapons could violate the most basic human rights -- the right to life, the right to a remedy and the principle of dignity," HRW researcher and Harvard Law School lecturer Bonnie Docherty wrote in an email.

"These rights are the basis for all others."

Fully autonomous weapons could select and fire on targets without meaningful human intervention, she said, adding they are a step beyond existing drones.

Military drones have come under increasing scrutiny for their role in U.S. attacks. According to the UK-based non-profit organization The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, U.S. drone strikes killed more than 2,400 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia over a five-year period under President Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, the notion of fully autonomous machines that can exercise lethal force has drawn increased attention. Writing in The Independent earlier this month about progress in artificial intelligence research, cosmologist Stephen Hawking and colleagues warned, "We are facing potentially the best or worst thing to happen to humanity in history."

Last year, HRW launched its Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which ramped up debate on the technology. Christof Heyns, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, urged a global moratorium on the development of lethal autonomous robots.

On Tuesday, dozens of countries will spend four days discussing such robots at a disarmament conference associated with the Convention on Conventional Weapons, HRW said, adding the U.N. Human Rights Council will take up the topic in June.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Government use of ITHuman Rights Watchroboticsregulationlegislationgovernment

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tim Hornyak

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?