HRW concerned over accountability for fully autonomous weapons
HRW concerned over accountability for fully autonomous weapons

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Thursday released a report [text] entitled “Mind the Gap: The Lack of Accountability for Killer Robots.” The report analyzes the hurdles involved in holding anyone (programmers, manufacturers, and military personnel) accountable for deaths caused by fully autonomous weapons, or “killer robots,” that require little to no “meaningful human control.” HRW contends that individuals associated with the use or production of these weapons may escape liability, as “neither criminal law nor civil law guarantees adequate accountability for individuals directly or indirectly involved in the use of [killer robots]. … These weapons have the potential to commit criminal acts for which no one could be held responsible,” as a weapon cannot possess the intent required by law and does not fall in the “natural person” jurisdiction of international courts.

Human commanders or operators could not be assigned direct responsibility for the wrongful actions of a fully autonomous weapon, except in rare circumstances when those people could be shown to have possessed the specific intention and capability to commit criminal acts through the misuse of fully autonomous weapons. In most cases, it would also be unreasonable to impose criminal punishment on the programmer or manufacturer, who might not specifically intend, or even foresee, the robot’s commission of wrongful acts.

Problems may also arise in the real-life use of “killer robots,” as “there are … grave doubts that [killer robots] would ever be able to replicate human judgment and comply with the legal requirement to distinguish civilian from military targets.”

HRW argued last May that the use of fully autonomous weapons by militaries or law enforcement would be an affront to basic human rights and should be preemptively banned by international convention [JURIST report]. Later in May, the UN concluded the first multilateral meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems [JURIST report] where key issues were discussed surrounding the use and implementation of such devices. Last year HRW encouraged action [JURIST report] on behalf of UN members at the upcoming 2013 Convention for Conventional Weapons (CCW) [UN website] in support of France’s initiative to add fully autonomous weapons to the CCW’s work program for 2014. In 2012 the US was the first country to issue a governmental policy statement [text, PDF] on the use of partially and fully-autonomous weapons.