BUENOS AIRES – Headed by Nobel Peace Prizewinner Jody Williams, a group of activist members of “The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots” on Wednesday in Buenos Aires called for a global ban on this kind of cyber-weaponry.
By “killer robots,” the group means weapons programmed with algorithms that allow targets to be automatically selected by the weapons themselves, in contrast to drones, which need a human piloting them that launches the actual attack.
Williams said that she was optimistic about the progress that could be achieved in the two days that the members of the campaign will spend in Buenos Aires, and – in remarks to EFE – she called for the creation of a killer-robot-free zone in Central and South America, given that countries such as Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica and Argentina have already come out against the use of these weapons.
Apart from the moral dilemma that Williams says means that a robot could decide to kill someone without another human mediating that decision, former Google engineer and campaign member Laura Nolan said that significant doubts exist about the possibility of designing robots with sufficient abilities to be able to comply with international humanitarian laws.
To comply with this legislation, Nolan emphasized that it is necessary to carry out a huge number of judgments with a complexity that only a person can accomplish, since no software has yet been developed that can make “abstract decisions” based on the myriad of contexts that exist in the real world.
Also, by way of example, she noted ongoing difficulties in developing automated driving systems, a process based on going from point A to point B while adhering to a series of signals and avoiding a series of obstacles and which companies are investing many millions of dollars to turn out the latest prototypes.
The robots would not only have to go through this process, Nolan said, but also they would have to know how to adapt to different environments where they operate and how to make decisions that would enable them, for example, to distinguish a target from a civilian.
“In some places a convoy may mean combatants, in other places a convoy may be something that people do for funerals,” Nolan said.
She warned that there is a “real danger” that countries who are not really interested in these problems will begin using these kinds of weapons.
Although she emphasized that the majority of these military projects are secret, the former Google employee gave the example of the development of a Turkish drone that could carry 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds) of explosives and incorporates facial recognition technology to be able to identify its target.
Williams said that the appearance of killer robots would “lower” the political costs of war for leaders, since they would not have to suffer “pressure from families because their children are (getting killed) in the war.”
She emphasized that the supporters of these weapons talk about “cleaner wars,” but she believes that this will only be possible for the leading countries in the armaments industry like the US, Russia and China, while the rest of the world’s nations will be the targets for machines that “will kill civilians.”
Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on the campaign against antipersonnel mines and cluster bombs, said that the appearance of these kinds of weapons is “a third armaments revolution” and called on everyone to act so that their countries declare themselves to be “free of killer robots.”