UN fails to agree on NOT making Terminators, killer robots on the way

The United Nations met with governments of the world to talk about autonomous weapons systems — also known as “killer robots” or in pop culture, we refer to Terminator or The Matrix — but the talks didn’t end well.

Negotiations on an international treaty that would govern the use of killer robots, but opposition from manufacturing states stopped that. Fully-autonomous weapons with no humans operating the “kill switch” are different from semi-autonomous weapons that include drones, which means the decision at the time of strike is left to sensors, software, and AI.

The industry needs regulation — obviously — with a UN panel report from March 2021 saying the first autonomous drone strike might have taken place in Libya. Earlier this week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres encouraged the 125 parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) to design an “ambitious plan” on new rules for “killer robots”.

The issue is that on Friday, the Sixth Review Conference of the CCW negotiations broke down and further scheduled talks about the development and use of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS). There are many countries around the world that are already investing large sums of money into LAWS, attending five-day meetings in Geneva, and were the ones stopping the legally-binding rules on machine-operated weapons from taking place.

According to Reuters’ sources, it’s Russia, India, and the US that were among the countries that were any changes to the LAWS treaty, with the United States pointing out the benefits of LAWS — one of them being precision.

Richard Moyes, coordinator at Stop Killer Robots, said that governments “need to draw a moral and legal line for humanity against the killing of people by machines. A clear majority of states see the need to ensure meaningful human control over the use of force. It’s time now for them to lead in order to prevent the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of killer robots”.

Switzerland’s Disarmament Ambassador Felix Baumann was disappointed with the UN intergovernmental panel, adding: “At the present rate of progress, the pace of technological development risks overtaking our deliberations”.

Neil Davison, a policy adviser in the Legal Division at ICRC said: “It’s a real missed opportunity and not in our view what is needed to respond to the risks posed by autonomous weapons”.

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Anthony Garreffa