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UN to Debate Killer Robots

Convention on Conventional Weapons Will Meet Next Year More than 80 nations have agreed to meet in the forum of the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) next year to deliberate on policy regarding lethal autonomous weapon systems.

The Group of Governmental Experts established by the CCW at its five-year review conference in Geneva last week will meet for one week in April or August next year (depending on UN finances) and a second week in November, with the aim of moving “the world another step closer towards a prohibition on the weapons,” according to a statement issued by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.


The debate highlights one of the significant but rarely discussed barriers to further development of unmanned systems for combat – the widespread public perception that hordes of humanoid robots, unleashed by an out-of-control military, has the potential to wipe out life on Earth.

Maybe that is putting the matter a little too strongly – but there is certainly a degree of paranoia fuelled by often ill-informed media reportage that has given rise to what has been called the “British Robots Bombed my Baby in Baluchistan” school of thought. The reality is that yes – developments and technology research is under way into combat-capable unmanned systems in several nations, but the lessons learned from the deployment of UCAV in Afghanistan has informed those developments. They are further tempered by the natural conservative and cautious nature of the overwhelming majority of military authorities: if you want to find a passionate advocate for peaceful resolution of confrontation and sensibly paced development of weapon systems – ask a soldier, sailor or airman with experience of armed conflict.

It is to be hoped the CCW will approach this serious issue with the objectivity and serious consideration it requires – and that it will consult individuals and authorities with knowledge rather than just opinions. The future of unmanned systems carries serious portent for humanity’s progress: it deserves the fullest possible intelligent, fact-fuelled debate. The spectre of ‘I Robot’ and other Hollywood interpretations should be relegated to where it belongs – as an entertainment – and not used as an emotive political football.



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