The use of autonomous drones – “killer robots” that could fire weapons with no human control – must be prohibited by international treaty, human rights campaigners and lawyers have said.
Weapons being developed that could choose and attack targets without human intervention should be pre-emptively banned because of the danger they would pose to civilians in armed conflict, they said.
Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots, a 50-page report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), warns that fully autonomous weapons would lack human qualities that provide legal and non-legal checks on the killing of civilians.
“Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far,” said Steve Goose, the HRW arms division director. “Human control of robotic warfare is essential to minimising civilian deaths and injuries.”
The New York-based campaign group said its report was based on extensive research into the law, technology, and ethics of the proposed weapons. It was published jointly with Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic.
They called for an international treaty, backed by national legislation, which would prohibit absolutely the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons.
Fully autonomous weapons would be unable to distinguish adequately between soldiers and civilians on the battlefield or apply the human judgment necessary to evaluate the proportionality of an attack – whether civilian harm outweighs military advantage.
The robots would also undermine non-legal checks on the killing of civilians, the report warns. Fully autonomous weapons could not show human compassion for their victims, and autocrats could abuse them by directing them against their own people.