A U.N. official is calling for a temporary global ban on the development of robot-controlled weapons, to allow states to weigh the morality and legality of using technology that makes life or death decisions without human input.
“War without reflection is mechanical slaughter,” Christof Heyns, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, told the world body’s Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday.
Mr. Heyns compared the situation of autonomous lethal robot weapons today to that of drone aircraft, remotely but humanly piloted, 20 years ago — when the technology was being developed but had not yet been deployed.
“With drones,” he told the BBC, “The genie is out of the bottle.
“With robots the genie is still in the bottle.”
In his annual report to the council, Mr. Heyns urged the establishment of a high-level expert panel to report within a year on progress in the field of “lethal autonomous robotics,” and to judge whether existing international laws can adequately regulate their use.
In the meantime, he said, there should be a moratorium on their development.
Several nations including the United States and Israel are believed to be working on such technology, although a Pentagon directive last year banned the actual use of such weapons by U.S. forces for the time being.
"The UN report makes it abundantly clear that we need to put the brakes on fully autonomous weapons, or civilians will pay the price in the future," said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. "The United States and every other country should endorse and carry out the UN call to stop any plans for killer robots in their tracks."
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