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UN’s Moratorium on Killer Robots Sounds Funny; Is Actually Horrifying

Fear is the Mind Killer

A United Nations Human Rights Commission report out this week examines the current technological state of autonomous weapons. Not automatic weapons, to be clear: autonomous weapons. Computerized weapons that detect targets automatically and do not need the intervention of human input to dispense lethal force.

Ha ha ha, I mean, come on, it’s not like we have those already, right? And we’re certainly not about to start building the Terminator or anything like it, right? Ha? Heh? Heh. No, seriously, please refute the things I have just said.

The report was authored by Christof Heyns, South African professor of human rights law, and calls for everybody to stop making or not make killer robots (the more serious term used for them is LARs, or Lethal Autonomous Robots) until a hypothetical international conference to create rules about their use can be held. Heyns believes that humans, while not infallible, at least posses compassion and intuition to contribute to decisions about when to use lethal force, something that we’re not at all close to programming into defensive robots. Proponents of autonomous weapons systems, on the other hand, argue that robots cannot act from “revenge, panic, anger, spite, prejudice or fear.” Which is good, I guess, but then they also note that robots are not susceptible to the temptations of causing intentional harm to civillian populations “unless specifically programmed to do so,” so hey there go my heebie jeebies right back up to 11. Humans! We’re the worst!

But it’s all okay, because that kind of technology is pure science fiction, right? Well, here are some of the emerging technologies Heyns cites as evidence that we’re approaching the ability to create completely autonomous LARs, from the AP:

– The U.S. Phalanx system for Aegis-class cruisers, which automatically detects, tracks and engages anti-air warfare threats such as anti-ship missiles and aircraft.

– Israel’s Harpy, a “Fire-and-Forget” autonomous weapon system designed to detect, attack and destroy radar emitters.

– Britain’s Taranis jet-propelled combat drone prototype that can autonomously search, identify and locate enemies but can only engage with a target when authorized by mission command. It also can defend itself against enemy aircraft.

– The Samsung Techwin surveillance and security guard robots, deployed in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, to detect targets through infrared sensors. They are currently operated by humans but have an “automatic mode.”

Welp. I’ll just be over here reading I, Robot and perspiring.

(via Death & Taxes.)

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Susana Polo thought she'd get her Creative Writing degree from Oberlin, work a crap job, and fake it until she made it into comics. Instead she stumbled into a great job: founding and running this very website (she's Editor at Large now, very fancy). She's spoken at events like Geek Girl Con, New York Comic Con, and Comic Book City Con, wants to get a Batwoman tattoo and write a graphic novel, and one of her canine teeth is in backwards.