“‘Killer robots’ to be debated at UN,” reads the headline. For the anti-UN folks, no, this doesn’t mean that UN officials, becoming overly abrasive during argumentation, could spark a reaction that would move us a step further away from world government. Killer robots don’t currently exist, but whether they should be developed and the implications of such technology are the subjects of a debate at the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), taking place Tuesday through Thursday this week.
The term “killer robots” may conjure up images of the virtually indestructible killing machine in the film Terminator, and that is more or less what’s at issue. No, these robots wouldn’t be covered with imitation human flesh (at least not the early versions) or travel through time, but they would be lethal autonomous weapons systems that would choose targets in accordance with their programming. And, as with nuclear bombs, machine guns, and aircraft, they would be, as Brookings Institution warfare futurist Peter W. Singer put it, a battlefield “game changer.”
And these weapons systems aren’t as far off as some may think. As the BBC’s Jonathan Marcus wrote last year:
The era of drone wars is already upon us. The era of robot wars could be fast approaching.
Already there are unmanned aircraft demonstrators like the arrow-head shaped X-47B that can pretty-well fly a mission by itself with no involvement of a ground-based "pilot".
There are missile systems like the Patriot that can identify and engage targets automatically.
And from here it is not such a jump to a fully-fledged armed robot warrior, a development with huge implications for the way we conduct and even conceive of war-fighting.
And, in fact, writes the Wall Street Journal, South Korea “already deploys semi-autonomous machine-gun robots outside its demilitarized zone with North Korea.”
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