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Blog: Killer Robots

October 21, 2013

Clinic Calls for a Ban on Killer Robots

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

At a UN meeting in New York today, the International Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Watch called for urgent action to stop the development of fully autonomous weapons, or “killer robots.” The Clinic and HRW released a question and answer document earlier in the day that makes plain the seriousness of the threat from these weapons, which would have the ability to identify and fire on human targets without intervention. The document builds on a Nov. 2012 report jointly published by the Clinic and HRW, entitled Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots.

Clinical students Kenny Pyetranker, J.D. ’13, Jonathan Nomamiukur, J.D. ’13, and Harin Song, J.D. ’14 contributed both research and writing to the paper released today. Please see here for the full press release from HRW.

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April 16, 2013

U.S. Takes First Step on Fully Autonomous Weapons, but Stricter Controls Needed

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

Today we released a joint paper with Human Rights Watch advocating for stricter U.S. policy on fully autonomous weapons, sometimes known as “killer robots.” The paper critiques a new U.S. Department of Defense policy on these weapons, which represents a positive step but is not a panacea to the problem.

See below for the press release from Human Rights Watch, and stay tuned for news of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which launches in London next week.

PRESS RELEASE


U.S.: Ban Fully Autonomous Weapons


U.S. Policy on Autonomy in Weapons Systems is First in the World

(Washington, DC, April 16, 2013) – Temporary US restrictions on lethal fully autonomous weapons should be strengthened and made permanent. Fully autonomous weapons, sometimes called “killer robots,” would be able to select and attack targets on their own without any human intervention.

In acknowledgement of the challenges such weapons would pose, the US Department of Defense issued a directive on November 21, 2012, that, for now, requires a human being to be “in-the-loop” when decisions are made about using lethal force. This was the department’s first public policy on autonomy in weapons systems and the first policy announcement by any country on fully autonomous weapons.

“This policy shows that the United States shares our concern that fully autonomous weapons could endanger civilians in many ways,” said Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch. “Humans should never delegate to machines the power to make life-and-death decisions on the battlefield. US policy should lay the basis for a permanent, comprehensive ban on fully autonomous weapons.”

The briefing paper by Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic reviews the content of the new directive and notes that it is a positive step. For up to 10 years, Directive Number 3000.09 generally allows the Department of Defense to develop or use only fully autonomous systems that deliver non-lethal force. In effect, it constitutes the world’s first moratorium on lethal fully autonomous weapons.

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November 21, 2012

Op-Ed: The Trouble with Killer Robots

Posted by Cara Solomon

Since its release on Monday, the Clinic’s joint report with Human Rights Watch on “killer robots” has been attracting quite a bit of attention. Check out articles in The Guardian, as well as segments on Democracy Now and the BBC.

Bonnie also wrote an excellent Op-Ed about the issue for Foreign Policy magazine, which is reprinted in full below.


The Trouble with Killer Robots


Imagine a mother who sees her children playing with toy guns as a military force approaches their village. Terrified, she sprints toward the scene, yelling at them to hurry home. A human soldier would recognize her fear and realize that her actions are harmless. A robot, unable to understand human intentions, would observe only figures, guns, and rapid movement. While the human soldier would probably hold fire, the robot might shoot the woman and her children.

Despite such obvious risks to civilians, militaries are already planning for a day when sentry robots stand guard at borders, ready to identify intruders and to kill them, without an order from a human soldier. Unmanned aircraft, controlled only by pre-programmed algorithms, might carry up to 4,500 pounds of bombs that they could drop without real time authorization from commanders.

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November 19, 2012

“The Case Against Killer Robots”: An International Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Watch Report

PRESS RELEASE

Ban Killer Robots Before It’s Too Late

Fully Autonomous Weapons Would Increase Danger to Civilians

November 19, Washington, DC – Governments should pre-emptively ban fully autonomous weapons because of the danger they pose to civilians in armed conflict, Human Rights Watch and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School said in a report released today. These future weapons, sometimes called “killer robots,” would be able to choose and fire on targets without human intervention.

Report cover shows an illustration of a room that looks to be destroyed bymachines.

The 50-page report, “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots,” outlines concerns about these fully autonomous weapons, which would inherently lack human qualities that provide legal and non-legal checks on the killing of civilians. In addition, the obstacles to holding anyone accountable for harm caused by the weapons would weaken the law’s power to deter future violations.

“Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far,” said Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch. “Human control of robotic warfare is essential to minimizing civilian deaths and injuries.”

“Losing Humanity is the first major publication about fully autonomous weapons by a nongovernmental organization and is based on extensive research into the law, technology, and ethics of these proposed weapons. It is jointly published by Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic.

Human Rights Watch and the International Human Rights Clinic called for an international treaty that would absolutely prohibit the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons. They also called on individual nations to pass laws and adopt policies as important measures to prevent development, production, and use of such weapons at the domestic level.

“It’s critical to take action now,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior clinical instructor at the International Human Rights Clinic and senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The technology is alluring, and the more nations invest in it, the harder it will be to convince them to give it up.”

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