In Geneva, it’s the big guy versus the little guy. And the big guy has robots on his side.
More than two dozen nations are using a key United Nations meeting this week to push for a total ban on fully autonomous weapons, or “killer robots,” as critics have dubbed them. The slow but relentless rise of lethal robots — from relatively simple drones to “Transformers”-like killing machines and guns that can choose their targets — has pitted large countries against small, with the U.S., Russia, Israel, the United Kingdom and other global powerhouses insisting that they will resist any effort to ban the development of autonomous technology.
International regulations outlawing the use of such military autonomous weaponry have found support among an unlikely group of allies, including the Vatican, Cuba, the Palestinian territories, Brazil, Panama, Ghana, Mexico, Pakistan and Uganda. They say such robots represent a violation of human rights standards and potentially an existential threat to humanity.
Activists hope the international campaign against what some call “slaughterbots” will mirror past agreements that banned the use of biological and chemical weapons and greatly constrained the use of landmines in warfare.
But senior Trump administration officials say they will oppose any restrictions on “lethal autonomous weapons systems,” and there seems to be little chance of wide-ranging global rules becoming a reality soon. The U.S. is a global leader in weapons research, including in the autonomous realm.
“The United States does not support beginning negotiations related to LAWS in 2019, on either a legally binding or other nonbinding instrument,” a State Department official told The Washington Times. “The issues presented by autonomy in weapons systems are complex, and further substantive dialogue is required to develop greater shared understanding of the nature and applications of the technical features and functions that are incorporated into weapons systems, and the ways in which to ensure that appropriate human judgment is exercised over the use of these weapons systems.”
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