Ask one technologist and he or she might say that lethal autonomous weapons — machines that can select and destroy targets without human intervention — are the next step in modern warfare, a natural evolution beyond today’s remotely operated drones and unmanned ground vehicles.
Others will decry such systems as an abomination and a threat to International Humanitarian Law (IHL), or the Law of Armed Conflict.
The U.N. Human Rights Council has, for now, called for a moratorium on the development of killer robots. But activist groups like the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) want to see this class of weapon completely banned. The question is whether it is too early — or too late — for a blanket prohibition. Indeed, depending how one defines “autonomy,” such systems are already in use.
From stones to arrows to ballistic missiles, human beings have always tried to curtail their direct involvement in combat, said Ronald Arkin, a computer scientist at Georgia Institute of Technology. Military robots are just more of the same. With autonomous systems, people no longer do the targeting, but they still program, activate and deploy these weapons.
“There will always be a human in the kill chain with these lethal autonomous systems unless you’re making the case that they can go off and declare war like the Cylons,” said Arkin, referring to the warring cyborgs from “Battlestar Galactica.” He added, “I enjoy science-fiction as much as the next person, but I don’t think that’s what this debate should be about at this point in time.”
Peter Asaro, however, is not impressed with this domino theory of agency. A philosopher of science at The New School, in New York, and co-founder of ICRAC, Asaro contends robots lack “meaningful human control” in their use of deadly force. As such, killer robots would be taking the role of moral actors, a position that he doubts they are capable of fulfilling under International Humanitarian Law. That’s why, he says, these systems must be banned.
Choosing targets, ranking values
According to the Law of Armed Conflict, a combatant has a duty to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. This means using weapons in a discriminating fashion and making sure that, when civilians do get killed in action, their incidental deaths are outweighed by the importance of the military objective — a calculation that entails value judgments.
In terms of assessing a battlefield scene, no technology surpasses the ability of the human eye and brain. “It’s very aspirational to think that we’ll get a drone that can pick a known individual out of a crowd. That’s not going to happen for a long, long, long, long time,” said Mary “Missy” Cummings, director of MIT’s Human and Automation Laboratory, and a former F-18 pilot. [Drone Wars: Pilots Reveal Debilitating Stress Beyond Virtual Battlefield]
Still, a fully autonomous aircraft would do much better than a person at, say, picking up the distinctive electronic signature of a radar signal or the low rumbling of a tank. In fact, pilots make most of their targeting errors when they try to do it by sight, Cummings told Live Science.
As for a robot deciding when to strike a target, Arkin believes that human ethical judgments can be programed into a weapons system. In fact, he has worked on a prototype software program called the Ethical Governor, which promises to serve as an internal constraint on machine actions that would violate IHL. “It’s kind of like putting a muzzle on a dog,” he said.
As expected, some have voiced much skepticism regarding the Ethical Governor, and Arkin himself supports “taking a pause” on buildinglethal autonomous weapons. But he doesn’t agree with a wholesale ban on research “until someone can show some kind of fundamental limitation, which I don’t believe exists, that the goals that researchers such as myself have established are unobtainable.”
Of robots and men
Citing the grisly history of war crimes, advocates of automated killing machines argue that, in the future, these cool and calculating systems might actually be more humane than human soldiers. A robot, for example, will not gun down a civilian out of stress, anger or racial hatred, nor will it succumb to bloodlust or revenge and go on a killing spree in some village.
The Latest on: Lethal autonomous weapons
via Google News
The Latest on: Lethal autonomous weapons
- Top UN official: It’s not too late to curb AI-powered weaponson March 22, 2020 at 9:01 pm
A coalition of dozens of countries and NGOs has declared it is not impressed with efforts so far to bring lethal autonomous weapons under control | Sean Gallup/Getty Images A coalition of dozens of ...
- Induction of lethal weapons by India threat to South Asia: Presidenton March 19, 2020 at 7:11 pm
He pointed out that new threats are also emerging including hostile uses of outer space, offensive cyber capability and development of lethal autonomous weapon systems such as drones. He stressed for ...
- Beware ‘Slaughterbots’: PSA Highlights Danger of Autonomous Weaponson March 16, 2020 at 7:29 am
“Many of the world’s leading AI researchers and humanitarian organizations are concerned about the potentially catastrophic consequences of allowing lethal autonomous weapons to be developed ...
- Saudi Arabia Just Granted Citizenship to a Roboton March 15, 2020 at 5:00 pm
Much to the chagrin of robo-skeptics like Elon Musk, who continues to warn against lethal autonomous weapons (i.e. “killer robots”). But the billionaire entrepreneur may want to be more ...
- UN debates banning use of Lethal Autonomous Weaponson March 15, 2020 at 5:00 pm
It's no longer the stuff of science fiction: Wars could soon be decided by lethal autonomous weapons systems. But a concerted effort to ban "killer robots" through international law at the UN ...
- Taking Killer Robots Seriouslyon March 13, 2020 at 5:00 pm
The only thing that’s stopping countries like the USA, South Korea, the UK, or France from deploying autonomous ... taking killer robots seriously. The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons ...
- Robots That Killon March 10, 2020 at 5:00 pm
The technology could change the scope of warfare, but at what cost? Lethal autonomous weapons, sometimes called killer robots, are military-grade weapons controlled by artificial intelligence.
- The US Navy is developing AI-powered submarines that could kill autonomouslyon March 10, 2020 at 5:18 am
Stuart Russell, a professor of computer science at the University of California, who described CLAWS as a “dangerous development.” “Equipping a fully autonomous vehicle with lethal weapons is a ...
- Can the use of AI weapons be banned?on March 4, 2020 at 10:26 am
But that may lead to a nightmare-- a world where AI-powered weapons kill people based on their own judgement, and without any human intervention. Full autonomous lethal weapons powered by AI are ...
- Japan says it will not build 'killer robots'on March 26, 2019 at 10:07 am
Nobushige Takamizawa spoke at Monday's opening of the latest weeklong meeting of government experts in Geneva on the future of "Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems," also known as "Killer Robots." ...
via Bing News