Anti-Killer Robot Movement Arising in Britain
February 25, 2013 • 11:33AM

One of the wet dreams of proponents of the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs has always been autonomous robots that go to war in place of human soldiers. Robots don't get tired, they don't need to eat, they see further and at wavelengths well beyond human sight, and react to threats in miliseconds. Most importantly, they have no moral qualms about killing a human being. They simply act according to their programming. This wet dream is on the verge of becoming reality, and it goes well beyond the use of killer drones, which still require a human being to pull the trigger.

The danger that such robots represent is spurring the birth of a new global campaign to outlaw such technology on the battlefield. The Stop the Killer Robots campaign is to be launched in London, at the House of Commons in April, and it will follow the pattern of earlier such movements to ban cluster bombs and land mines. "These things are not science fiction; they are well into development," Dr. Noel Sharkey, a leading robotics and artificial intelligence expert and professor at Sheffield University, told the London Observer. Sharkey's concern is that such technologies are far outpacing international law. The Geneva Conventions, for example, require that any new weapon be able to distinguish between a civilian and a combatant. "We are struggling to get them to distinguish between a human being and a car," Sharkey said. "We have already seen utter incompetence in the use of drones, operators making a lot of mistakes and not being properly supervised."

The proponents of banning autonomous robotic technologies from the battlefield face an uphill fight, however. The United States, Britain, and Israel are probably the three leading countries in the development of such technologies. Neither the United States nor Israel has signed the land mine convention or the cluster bomb convention (Britain has signed both). To be fair, 32 other countries have also not signed the land mine convention, and only 78 countries have signed the cluster bomb convention, but none of them have gone as far as the U.S. in developing remote control warfare.