‘We need to start acting now’: Australian scientist takes killer robot ban fight to United Nations

The Terminator analogies are inevitable, but Toby Walsh says we’re still a good 50 years away from having killer robots quite as sophisticated as that.

In fact, it’s the “stupid” nature of technologies being used in the so-called “third wave” of warfare, known as autonomous weapons systems – killer robots, for short – that has him worried. Very worried.

Only a few days ago an anonymous whistlebower, already being dubbed the “second Snowden”, leaked classified US military material detailing its use of drones in warfare.

The “drone papers”, published in The Intercept, revealed that in a single five-month period during a US operation in Afghanistan, nearly 90 per cent of people killed in drone strikes were not the intended targets.

Without human intervention, Walsh says, that figure would be “even worse, guaranteed”.

Though he calls himself an “accidental activist”, the UNSW artificial intelligence professor and researcher at Data61 (formerly NICTA) sees it as his scientific duty to inform humanity of the impending, self-imposed peril.

Walsh was a major driving force behind the open letter calling for a ban on killer robots which was signed by Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and more than 2000 AI researchers in July, helping bring significant media attention to the issue. A number of NGOs including Human Rights Watch have been campaigning on the issue since 2012 under the umbrella group Stop Killer Robots.

Walsh and his colleagues fear an arms race in autonomous weapons could have disastrous consequences. Once companies begin manufacturing these weapons, they risk falling into the hands of enemies including terrorists or rogue states. A market flooded with swarms of cheap, terrifying, autonomous weapons – which cannot compute the ethics or intricacies of warfare – unleashed upon innocent people is a worst case scenario.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/we-need-to-start-acting-now-australian-scientist-takes-killer-robot-ban-fight-to-un-20151018-gkcb33.html

Camilla Wood

UK based Legal Aid Lawyer

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