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Government officials alarmed by rapidly accelerating development of autonomous killer robots


Killer robots
(NaturalNews) It's difficult - particularly for observers of a certain age and cultural background - to resist drawing the obvious comparisons between science fiction and the reality which is now unfolding regarding the development of autonomous weapons systems, e.g. "The Rise of the Machines" and "Skynet."

Sci-fi references or not, it truly is a little spooky to live in a world with organizations (that are actually taken seriously) having names like the 'Campaign to Stop Killer Robots' - a name which, of course, sounds like it was lifted straight out of an Isaac Asimov novel.

'Campaign to Stop Killer Robots' co-founded by Human Rights Watch and other prominent NGOs

In fact, that organization was co-founded by Human Rights Watch, the Nobel Women's Initiative and other eminent national and international NGOs.

There is legitimate and widespread concern about the development of "killer robots," autonomous drones and missiles, and other weaponry either already being deployed or currently under development.

The issue has become so relevant that the UN recently held a special meeting in Geneva to address the concerns. Participants included representatives from several European nations and other countries who met to discuss how to monitor and regulate the use of these technologies, which have the potential to cause great harm.

Can autonomous weapons ever meet Geneva convention standards?

Delegates at the meeting debated on topics including whether or not these new weapons conform to Geneva convention rulings on 'proportionality' and whether or not autonomous weapons should be banned completely.

The United States is at the forefront of the technology, with most of its aerial surveillance capabilities already being partly automated and with new fully-autonomous weapons in testing and development.

The technology is advancing so rapidly that some observers are foreseeing a new type of arms race based on developed countries vying with each other to stay one step ahead in terms of robotic weaponry.

Even some of the most advanced developers of artificial intelligence systems, such as Tesla Motors' Elon Musk, warn of a future where autonomous machines may play an increasingly threatening role toward humankind.

Indeed, there have already been a significant number of incidents in which partially-autonomous U.S. weapons have been responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians in war zones, particularly in the Middle East.

The less direct human control over these weapons, the greater the chance that they will end up harming those who are not intended targets.

The meeting in Geneva was the second this year addressing the issue of autonomous weapons, which indicates how grave the concerns are for members of the international diplomatic community.

UN tries to keep pace with technology

As the technology races ahead, it is necessary to examine all the implications, not only regarding the danger to innocent civilians but also those involved on the battlefield. There are questions concerning whether these weapons are essentially inhumane, even when used against armed enemy combatants.

As the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots' website states, "there are numerous ethical, legal, moral, policy, technical, and other concerns with fully autonomous weapons."

Under the rules of the Geneva Convention on Conventional Weapons as amended in 2001:

"...the principle of international law that the right of the parties to an armed conflict to choose methods or means of warfare is not unlimited, and...prohibits the employment in armed conflicts of weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering."

That prohibition would certainly seem to apply to many of the autonomous weapons now being used and developed by the U.S. and others.

The decision at the conclusion of the Geneva meeting this month was to continue deliberations on the issue. There will be another set of talks at the UN in Geneva in April 2015 to further explore solutions to the problem.

It is hoped that the member states will reach some binding agreements strictly regulating, if not altogether banning, the use of killer robots and other autonomous weapons systems.

Sources for this article include:
http://www.theguardian.com
http://www.stopkillerrobots.org/
http://www.unog.ch
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