New York - Killer robots that can attack targets without any human input "should not have the power of life and death over human beings," a new draft UN report says.
The report for the UN Human Rights Commission deals with legal and philosophical issues involved in giving robots lethal powers over humans, echoing countless science-fiction novels and films. It was posted online this week.
Report author Christof Heyns, a UN human rights lawyer, calls for a worldwide moratorium on the "testing, production, assembly, transfer, acquisition, deployment and use" of killer robots until an international conference can develop rules for their use.
In the report, Heyns calls them "lethal autonomous robotics", or LARs for short, and writes: "Decisions over life and death in armed conflict may require compassion and intuition. Humans - while they are fallible - at least might possess these qualities, whereas robots definitely do not."
The report goes beyond the recent debate over drone killings of al-Qaeda suspects and nearby civilians who are maimed or killed in the air strikes. Drones do have human oversight. The killer robots are programmed to make autonomous decisions on the spot without orders from humans.
According to the report, the US, Britain, Israel, South Korea and Japan have developed various types of fully or semi-autonomous weapons. It cites these examples:
- The US Phalanx system for Aegis-class cruisers, which automatically detects, tracks and engages anti-air warfare threats such as anti-ship missiles and aircraft.
- The US Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM) system that can automatically destroy incoming artillery, rockets and mortar rounds.
- Israel's Harpy, a "Fire-and-Forget" autonomous weapon system designed to detect, attack and destroy radar emitters.
- Britain's Taranis jet-propelled combat drone prototype that can autonomously search, identify and locate enemies but can only engage with a target when authorised by mission command. It also can defend itself against enemy aircraft.
- The Northrop Grumman X-47B fighter-size drone prototype commissioned by the US Navy to demonstrate autonomous launch and landing capability on aircraft carriers.
- The Samsung Techwin surveillance and security guard robots, deployed in the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea, to detect targets through infrared sensors. They are currently operated by humans but have an "automatic mode".