Peace activist and Nobel laureate Jody Williams is continuing to sound alarm about so-called killer robots, saying in a recent interview that they represent a frightening marriage between “artificial intelligence and weapons of war.”
Williams, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and currently chairs the Nobel Women’s Initiative, made the remark in an interview published last month with the Germany-based Faces of Peace Initiative.
“We do not need fully autonomous weapons that on their own can target and kill human beings,” said Williams. “We need to use our resources so that the needs of people are met, not the needs of arms producers.”
Asked about the biggest threats to peace this year, Williams criticized the never-ending pursuit of more modern weaponry.
“To my mind,” said Williams, “the global obsession with weapons and violence while at the same time painting people who believe that peace is possible as intellectual ‘light weights’ who don’t understand the harsh reality of the world are the two sides of the double-edged sword that keeps the world believing that only more weapons will keep us safe.”
“The biggest threats are the ‘modernization’ of nuclear weapons and the new ‘revolution’ of weapons—killer robots,” she said. “The weapons are fully autonomous and can target and kill human beings on their own. A devastating ‘marriage’ of artificial intelligence and weapons of war!”
Williams also lamented that landmines continue to claim lives—over 5,000 in 2019 according to the most recent Land Mine Monitor. That’s despite the fact that the Mine Ban Treaty has 164 state parties, which represents roughly 80% of the world’s countries.
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Williams’ home country of the United States is not a signatory to the global treaty, though she expressed some optimism for the Biden administration doing better than its immediate predecessor.
While making no prediction about what President Joe Biden would do regarding the treaty, Williams said in the interview that it’s “very likely he will roll back [former President Donald] Trump’s policy and align his administration’s policy with that of the Obama administration, which brought the U.S. very close to compliance with the treaty even if it was not signed.”
Since the interview was released, however, the Biden administration indicated it would not roll back Trump’s policy, declaring landmines a still “vital tool” in the U.S. military’s arsenal.
Speaking about the issue in an April 8 interview with Democracy Now!, Williams said the Biden administration’s decision to simply “review the policy”—as opposed to swiftly repealing it—was “mind-boggling” given the “multitudinous reviews under various presidents.”
“Landmines were invented, if you will, in order to maim people,” she said.
“It is an indiscriminate weapon that has no place on this planet and no place in the ground, in riverbanks where women go and wash clothes, areas where kids play,” said Williams. “The fact that President Biden had said he would immediately turn back Mr. Trump’s confused policy and is now having another review is very disturbing.”
“How many more reviews does one need to do to know that those weapons have no place on this planet?”
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