The threat of lethal autonomous weapons is back in the spotlight as delays are curbing the UN’s efforts to stop the USA and the UK from deploying “killer robots”.

The biggest problem, as pointed in The Guardian, is the language used in negotiations. China wants to discuss both “existing and emerging” technologies while the US and UK want the conversation to be solely about “emerging” technologies.

Observers say that the seemingly innocuous use of language leaves room for both the UK and the US to deploy autonomous weaponry before it’s banned. They say those weapons still fall outside of the ban thanks in part to the word “emerging”.

Naturally, this is cause for concern as this it means the talks, which having been going on for the better part of three years, may allow for the deployment of lethal autonomous weapons if they’re delayed any further.

Semi-autonomous weaponry such as South Korea‘s patrol robot the SGR-1, Israel‘s See-Shoot system and the UK automated fighter Taranis have been deployed and used for a while now but many of these instances still have humans making the final kill order. The problem, as professor of artificial intelligence at Sheffield University and co-founder of International Committee for Robot Arms Control, Noel Sharkey explains it, is making the kill process automated.

“Having met with the UN, the Red Cross, roboticists and many groups across civil society, we have a general agreement that these weapons could not comply with the laws of war. There is a problem with them being able to discriminate between civilian and military targets, there is no software that can do that”, Sharkey said speaking to The Guardian.

At present there is a wide reaching fear that should these talks be delayed any longer the US and UK will go ahead with development and deployment of lethal autonomous weaponry before definitions are put into place.

There is another option which could see countries institutionalising a ban outside of the UN under international humanitarian law.

[Image by NC 2.0 – Defence Images]
Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.