UN official calls for ban on ‘killer robots’

A top United Nations human rights official is calling for a ban on the development of autonomous “killer robots.”

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U.N. Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns issued a report Thursday raising concerns about robots that can kill without human control, urging all countries to stop development of the technology while the ramifications are considered.

Heyns warned in the report that lethal autonomous robots (LARs) would make it easier for states to go to war.

“In the same way that the taking of any human life deserves as a minimum some deliberation, a decision to allow machines to be deployed to kill human beings deserves a collective pause worldwide,” Heyns said in a statement.

“If this is done, machines and not humans, will take the decision on who is alive or dies.”

The weapons that Heyns refers haven’t been created yet, but he said the technology is developing at “an exponential rate.”

There are already weapons that have some degree of autonomy, including the U.S. Navy’s Phalanx system designed to stop anti-ship missiles that can search, track and engage against threats.

Heyns warned about the dangers of taking humans “out of the loop.”

“States find this technology attractive because human decision-making is often much slower than that of robots, and human thinking can be clouded by emotion,” he said.

The report makes a distinction from weapons such as unmanned drones, Heyns said, because in that case someone is still at the controls.

While the idea of “killer robots” conjures images of the “Terminator” movie series, Heyns wrote that those types of “sentient” machines aren’t on the horizon just yet.

“While the relevant technology is developing at an exponential rate, and full autonomy is bound to mean less human involvement in 10 years’ time compared to today, sentient robots, or strong artificial intelligence are not currently in the picture,” the report says.

Heyns presented his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council Thursday, recommending that a high-level panel be created to articulate an international policy on the issue.