Is the world ready for `Killer Robots`?

The United Nations Human Rights Council, Thursday, will discuss a report recommending a moratorium on the development of the so-called “killer robots”.

Zee Media Bureau

Geneva: With countries like the United States, Britain and Israel testing unmanned robotic weapons, the United Nations Human Rights Council, Thursday, will discuss a report recommending a moratorium on the development of the so-called “killer robots”.

Christof Heyns, UN special rapporteur on extra judicial killings had presented the report and sought the establishment of a high-level panel to discuss a policy for these weapons, which are designed to kill enemies "autonomously" on behalf of human soldiers.

In a 22-page report, Heyns alleged that robotic weapons systems were being tested or used without debate on moral and legal issues.

“Their deployment may be unacceptable because no adequate system of legal accountability can be devised and because robots should not have the power of life and death over human beings,” the report said.

With remotely piloted drone aircraft already in use, the report fears that some countries may eventually introduce these robots weapons like unmanned systems, quadruped transporters and small unmanned tanks.

Northrop Grumman and Samsung Techwin are among companies with robotic systems being used or tested. As per the report, Samsung security robots deployed in the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea are operated by humans but have an automatic mode.

Importantly, the Pentagon had issued a directive last November recognising the need for domestic control of production and deployment of lethal autonomous robotics.

Killer robots might be “pitted against people on foot”, Heyns said, while dismissing backers who say that they offer the prospect of “riskless war” and “wars without casualties”.

Referring to international humanitarian law that lays down the rules of war, he questioned whether robots would be capable of complying with its requirements, including the need to distinguish between civilians and combatants.

“It would be difficult for robots to establish, for example, whether someone is wounded and hors de combat, and also whether soldiers are in the process of surrendering,” Heyns said.

“A further concern relates to the ability of robots to distinguish legal from illegal orders”, he added.

This would make it difficult to ensure accountability for violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws, the report says, adding that letting autonomous machines decide who to kill implies "a vacuum of moral responsibility.

"Since a nation`s use of robots eliminates the risk to its own soldiers, these machines "may thus lower the threshold for states for going to war or otherwise using lethal force, resulting in armed conflict no longer being a measure of last resort," the report notes. It says that "fully autonomous" robots have not yet been deployed.

Campaigners including Nobel Laureate Jody Williams called in April for a ban on machines with the ability to attack targets without any human intervention.

The US Navy made aviation history on May 14 by launching an unmanned jet – the X-47B stealth drone by Northrop Grumman – from an aircraft carrier for the first time, taking an important step toward expanded use of drones.

Human Rights Watch, in its campaign against killer robots, cited the X-47B as one of several weapons that represent a transition toward development of fully autonomous arms.

With Agency Inputs