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DAVID ADAMS looks at the battle over lethal autonomous weapons…


FUTURE REALITY?: A model of one of the deadly autonomous robots featured in The Terminator. PICTURE:  athewma/

You may have been surprised to learn last month that a group of more than 100 prominent tech leaders from across the globe had joined in calling upon the UN to ban killer robots. No, it’s not a scene from the Terminator series (and experts say we’re still some way off from developing the sort of AI tech SkyNet uses to take over the world) but a real-world issue which, the business leaders – who included Telsa’s CEO Elon Musk and Alphabet’s Mustafa Suleyman – said in an open letter that “threaten[s] to become the third revolution in warfare”. “Once developed, [lethal autonomous weapons] will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend,” they write. “These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.” The call has the support of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots which has been pushing for a ban of fully autonomous weapons for some time. Yet some, like science writer Philip Ball, it’s a case of closing the gate after the horse has bolted – they say that such technologies are already here – the sentry guns along the South/North Korean border a well-noted example. Some have also said that an outright ban is not the way forward – the UK Government opposed the ban a couple of years ago, saying that international humanitarian law already provided sufficient regulation. Whatever happens from here, rest assured that the wrestle over the increasing self-determination of weaponry is not an issue that’s going away soon. 



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