Then UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions [official website] Christof Heyns on Thursday urged [text, PDF] the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] to impose a moratorium on lethal autonomous robotics (LAR's), also known as "killer robots." A key concern to Heyns is whether future weapons systems will be allowed to make the decision to kill on their own, without human intervention:
Machines lack morality and mortality, and as a result should not have life and death powers over humans...[I]n addition to being physically removed from the kinetic action, humans would also become more detached from decisions to kill and their execution.In his submission to the UN, Heyns compared LAR's to the experience of drones, which were initially intended for surveillance purposes, but are now used offensively to carry out targeted killings.
While the legality of drone use has been a controversial issue around the world for many years, many states are actively exploring the development of autonomous weapons operating on the ground including the US, Israel, South Korea, the UK, China and Russia. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website], the US has spent approximately $6 billion a year on research and development of unmanned systems. In a directive [text, PDF] adopted in 2012, the Pentagon stated that fully autonomous weapons could only be used to apply non-lethal, non-kinetic force, such as some forms of electronic attack. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots [advocacy website], coordinated by HRW and other civil society groups, works to preemptively ban LAR's through international treaty, national laws and others measures to ensure that lethal force against a human being is always made by a human being.