James Cameron’s cult classicThe Terminator depicted a dystopian world dominated by wars between humans and an army of sentient robots.
While the film is considered to be a work of science fiction, advances in technology in the real world have made it possible for manufacturers to produce weapons that are smart enough to carry out actions without the need for human control, a development that is now being blocked by both robotics and human rights experts.
Christof Heyns, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,warned the UN’s member nations that the protracted negotiations regarding the future of deadly autonomous weapons are progressing too slowly to prevent wars using robots from turning into a reality.
While calls for the pre-emptive banning of such “killer robots” are intensifying, particularly from scientists and technology leaders, at the UN general assembly, experts believe a deal may not be reached quickly enough to stop lethal devices from being deployed.
Heyns said that there is a danger now that the regulatory talks may get stalled.
He explained that a large sum of money goes into the creation of autonomous weapons and that people will expect a return on their investment. If a pre-emptive ban on the use of such weapons is not implemented, Heyns warned that it could lead to problems that might not be easily addressed.
Observers believe that the United Kingdom and the United States are seeking to limit the regulatory deal in order for weapons already deployed to be beyond the reach of a potential ban.
Robotics and artificial intelligence professor Noel Sharkey from the University of Sheffield said that China wanted to include emerging and existing technologies in the discussions but it was quickly limited by the UK and the U.S. to only include emerging technologies.
Sharkey, who is also the co-founder of a coalition of experts in robotics known as the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, said that the UK and the U.S. insist that the wording for a mandate on autonomous weapons should only include emerging technologies because they are concerned that a ban could be placed on their current weapons such as the Iron Dome and the Phalanx.
However, if regulatory talks continue to drag on for several more years, Sharkey warned that many of the weapons they are trying to ban will already have been created and deployed.
As of the moment, there are no fully autonomous weapons being used by nations, but a number of semi-autonomous and deadly precursors are already in development.
One such semi-autonomous weapon is the SGR-1, a sentry robot deployed by South Korea to patrol its border with North Korea. This robot makes use of lights and heat sensors to detect potential intruders as far as two miles away.
Sharkey continues to assert at the UN that allowing autonomous weapons to make the choice to kill an individual is wrong and extremely risky.