Killer Robots

The increasing technological capacity for autonomy in weapons systems raises a host of moral, legal, accountability, technological, and security concerns. Fully autonomous weapons, also known as lethal autonomous weapons systems or “killer robots,” are emerging systems that would select and engage targets without meaningful human control. They would revolutionize warfare in frightening ways and should be prevented and prohibited through new international law.

Three individuals pose with a life-size robot in front of a banner

(From left to right) Matthew Greichen JD’19, Daniel Moubayed JD’20, and Bonnie Docherty, Associate Director of Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection, at the global meeting of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots in 2019, with the robot mascot for the Campaign.

States parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) have held meetings on lethal autonomous weapons systems since 2014. While the majority of these countries have called for maintaining meaningful human control over the use of force, progress toward a new treaty has been slow due to the opposition of several major military powers.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a global civil society coalition, has spearheaded efforts to push for a new treaty banning fully autonomous weapons. The Campaign’s members include human rights advocates, scientists, tech workers, ethicists, and others who seek to retain meaningful human control over the use of force. The Clinic has been involved with the Campaign since its founding in 2012. It has built the case against fully autonomous weapons through reports co-published with Human Rights Watch. In 2019, the Clinic drafted elements of a proposed new treaty, which were adopted by the Campaign. In addition to providing legal analysis and arguments to partner organizations, clinical students have engaged in advocacy at CCW meetings, other UN disarmament conferences, and global campaign gatherings.

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