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Ban killer robots before they go berserk, group says

Within the next 20 to 30 years, a fully autonomous weapon deployed on the battlefield could confuse a young girl with an ice cream cone for a soldier with a gun and kill her. Governments should stop this from happening before it is too late, a human rights advocacy urges in a new report.So called killer robots do not yet exist, Human Rights Watch said. But the technology is headed in that directio

Within the next 20 to 30 years, a fully autonomous weapon deployed on the battlefield could confuse a young girl with an ice cream cone for a soldier with a gun and kill her. Governments should stop this from happening before it is too late, a human rights advocacy urges in a new report.

So called killer robots do not yet exist, Human Rights Watch said. But the technology is headed in that direction. While autonomous weapons could lower human causalities on the battlefield, they would lack human compassion and make going to war easier, the group noted.

In addition, when a robot errs on the battlefield, where does the blame lie? The answer is fuzzy, according to Noel Sharkey, a professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield in England and contributor to the report.

“It could be the commander who sent it off. It could be the manufacturer. It could be the programmer who programmed the mission. The robot could take a bullet in its computer and go berserk. So there is no way of really determining who is accountable and that’s very important for the laws of war,” he said in the video below about the report released by Human Rights Watch.

How close are we to these machines? The group points to several precursor technologies in development, including the Navy’s X-47B, a drone strike fighter designed to autonomously refuel and land on an aircraft carrier.

The drone is also designed to carry weapons and if it can eventually fly by itself, it could identify targets and launch its weapons without any human involvement, noted Bonnie Docherty, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch. 

The group is calling for an international treaty that would “prohibit the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons” as well as laws to prevent their development and deployment within individual nations.

“It is essential to stop the development of killer robots before they show up in national arsenals,” Goose said in a news release. “As countries become more invested in this technology, it will become harder to persuade them to give it up.”

 – via The Verge 

John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.