Human Rights Watch calls for a ban on ‘killer robots’ before they are fully deployed

By End the Lie

The United Kingdom’s Taranis combat aircraft, named after the Celtic god of thunder, whose prototype was unveiled in 2010, is designed strike distant targets, “even in another continent.” While the Ministry of Defence has stated that humans will remain in the loop, the Taranis exemplifies the move toward increased autonomy (Image credit: AP Photo/BAE Systems, Ministry of Defence handout)

In September of this year, I wrote an article about the Defense Science Board calling on the U.S. Department of Defense to “more aggressively use autonomy in military missions.”

Now Human Rights Watch (HRW) has produced a 50 page report entitled “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots” (PDF) calling on a complete ban on “killer robots,” or, more precisely, “fully autonomous weapons.”

Before delving into this report, I am obligated to point out that HRW is far from a faultless organization, as seen in this article on HRW on SourceWatch. That being said, HRW is the apparently the first non-governmental organization (NGO) to address the issue thus far.

The use of drones is questionable enough, as highlighted by the work of applied ethicist Dr. Robert Sparrow, but the concerns surrounding autonomous systems go far beyond those of drones.

Note: to learn more about drones, their use, their future and the dangers of this type of technology, I highly suggest you read some of the many articles published on End the Lie. This is a topic that is not going away and requires a deep level of research to understand.

HRW is now calling on Governments to “pre-emptively ban fully autonomous weapons because of the danger they pose to civilians in armed conflict,” which is indeed something which must be done in order to preserve human rights.

Fully autonomous weapons systems are even more dangerous than typical drones because “humans could start to fade out of the decision-making loop, retaining a limited oversight role—or perhaps no role at all,” according to the HRW report.

As hard as it may be to believe, the prospect of fully autonomous weapons is not pure science fiction, evidenced by the aforementioned Defense Science Board document.

These intentions are also outlined in “Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap FY2011-2036” (PDF) an October 2011 document produced by the Department of Defense.

In the document, the Department of Defense reveals that it “envisions unmanned systems seamlessly operating with manned systems while gradually reducing the degree of human control and decision making required for the unmanned portion of the force structure.”

There are quite strong driving forces behind this, not only the powerful drone lobby (and their friends in the aviation industry as a whole), but also the fact that the military is simply overwhelmed with the sheer amount of data gathered by drones around the world.

This constant data stream is only increasing with drones capable of capturing 36 square miles of imagery in a single blink along with the U.S. military operating drones domestically and sharing the captured data with law enforcement.

Indeed, according to the “Unmanned Ground Systems Roadmap,” released by the Robotic Systems Joint Project Office in July of last year, the U.S. military is working towards totally autonomous weapons systems.

“There is an ongoing push to increase UGV [unmanned ground vehicle] autonomy, with a current goal of ‘supervised autonomy,’ but with an ultimate goal of full autonomy,” the report (PDF) states.

“Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047,” a 2009 report (PDF) from the U.S. Air Force, revealed that “[i]ncreasingly humans will no longer be ‘in the loop’ but rather ‘on the loop’—monitoring the execution of certain decisions. Simultaneously, advances in AI will enable systems to make combat decisions and act within legal and policy constraints without necessarily requiring human input.”

These plans are, surprisingly, not as new as one might think, evidenced by a 2004 planning document (PDF) produced by the U.S. Navy.

The document, “The Navy Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (UUV) Master Plan,” states, “While admittedly futuristic in vision, one can conceive of scenarios where UUVs sense, track, identify, target, and destroy an enemy—all autonomously.”

This would entirely eliminate humans from the so-called “kill chain,” making the already common slaughter of civilians even more routine.

“Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far,” said Steve Goose, the Director of the Arms Division at HRW, in a press release. “Human control of robotic warfare is essential to minimizing civilian deaths and injuries.”

The 50-page report, boasting over 182 footnotes, is an absolute must read as it covers a great deal of ground while also making some sensible recommendations and pointing out some of the many unseen dangers lurking behind this type of technology.

Did I forget anything or miss any errors? Would you like to make me aware of a story or subject to cover? Or perhaps you want to bring your writing to a wider audience? Feel free to contact me at [email protected] with your concerns, tips, questions, original writings, insults or just about anything that may strike your fancy.

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15 Responses to Human Rights Watch calls for a ban on ‘killer robots’ before they are fully deployed

  1. Anonymous November 22, 2012 at 1:29 AM

    why not just ban drones too??

    Reply
  2. Anonymous November 22, 2012 at 1:39 AM

    all drones need to be discontinued and banned!

    Reply
  3. End time servant November 22, 2012 at 5:42 AM

    One thing I always remember what they show is what they have already and have used them this is not going away lucifer and his minions are in the drivers seat there saying let the show begin and it has world wide sheeple get prepared first with your soul next what ever you can but understand every evil you are seeing and hearing are real

    Reply
  4. KEVIN November 22, 2012 at 2:18 PM

    There are sick manufacturing, Military and political minds at work here, with no thought whatsoever deliberately given to the innocent, collateral lives that will be lost if such a scenario comes about, and all, because a person or political group doesn’t agree on how the world should operate, either Monetary, political or Military as certain Western powers want us to think.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: » Human Rights Watch calls for a ban on ‘killer robots’ before they are fully deployed

  6. Ruth Barnes November 24, 2012 at 4:53 AM

    Anyone that wants to get rid of drones and UAVs, military robots, etc., does NOT care one bit for a family of a soldier that has been killed in battle. We need to have all military forces to be automated fully.

    Reply
    • yournutz November 24, 2012 at 9:06 AM

      Lady, have you ever asked yourself how these soldiers are dying? Could it be because they are fighting in unnecessary wars? And it’s not just soldiers dying, it will be, and it already is, civilians dying. Do you really think that humans can create technology that dangerous and be able to control it? When other countries get a hold of that technology then it will just keep escalating to no end. We will reap what we sow.

      Reply
      • Ruth is a Shill November 24, 2012 at 6:48 PM

        yep, the wars shouldn’t even be going on! but don’t worry ruth is just a shill

        Reply
    • Ruth is a Shill November 24, 2012 at 6:48 PM

      Shill! you must not give a shit about the children being slaughtered by these drones already when they’re not even automated fully as you are saying they should be. YOu’re a sick excuse for a human Ruth

      Reply
    • Anonymous January 2, 2013 at 10:17 AM

      lol called the fuck out ruth

      Reply
  7. OhioRiver November 24, 2012 at 6:18 AM

    Killer Robots!! Who are the real terrorist around the world, the people or the governments? Where is the outrage?

    Great article. Thanks for bringing this information out into the open and alerting everyone.

    Reply
  8. stu cazzo November 24, 2012 at 8:07 AM

    “terminator” has arrived

    Reply
  9. Pingback: Watchdog Group Calls For Ban On ‘Killer Robots’ – Secrets of the Fed

  10. Brian November 30, 2012 at 6:43 AM

    I agree that we should not be fighting unnecessary wars. But if we must enter armed conflict, I’d rather put robots in the field. Is it possible that an armed autonomous system could make a mistake? Certainly. But human soldiers can (and frequently do) make mistakes that kill innocents. If it can be demonstrated that a robot can be more reliable than a human, then I say let’s keep the soldiers at home where they don’t get shot, blown up, or emotionally devastated by the horrors of combat.

    Full disclosure: I am a robotics researcher. I don’t work in military robotics, but I am familiar with the underlying technologies at work here, and I believe that autonomous systems can be made more reliable than humans in many combat situations.

    Reply
  11. Anonymous January 2, 2013 at 10:16 AM

    that pic is beyond creepy

    Reply

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