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Japan calls on UN to control the use of killer robots

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As AI grows more advanced, sci-fi stories start to bleed into real life.

At a UN convention in Geneva, Japanese Ambassador Nobushige Takamizawa is leading discussion on the issue of international rules on artificially intelligent killer robots.

The use of artificial intelligence in weaponry to create "killer robots" is a major concern for the United Nations
(Image via Pinterest)

The rise of autonomous machines is actually a growing concern for the United Nations. Just as the technology can be used to drive cars or analyse complex datasets, it could also be used in weaponry.

Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) have the potential to autonomously hit targets - and possibly decide to kill - without human control.

At the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (running from 25th-29th March), Takamizawa announced that Japan has not and will not develop fully automated weapons systems, and called for the other participants to discuss how humans can maintain control over the use of LAWS, and set limitations in place.

“We do not intend to develop any lethal weapon that is completely autonomous and functions without human control,” confirmed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Other countries, however, have not raised the same ethical concerns; with Russia, China and the USA said to be currently developing LAWS. The UK, in addition, has said that it will not support a pre-emptive ban on killer robots, although the Ministry of Defence claimed they currently have no plans to build autonomous weapons.

Though the UK says it has no plans to develop LAWS, opponents claim that systems such as the Taranis - an unmanned drone equipped with a machine gun that uses heat and motion sensors to find targets as far as 2 miles away - is very similar
(Image via BAE)

A ban on LAWS has been raised within the UN in the past, but has been shot down by countries like the US and Russia who say that it is too early in the lifecycle of the technology to begin restricting its development. 

It has been said that use of AI could restrict the need for sending in human soldiers, while also ensuring that “human error” in warfare is avoided. Robots will not be susceptible to the effects of fear, adrenaline or shock and could potentially make strategic, reasoned decisions much faster than a human soldier.

However, many disagree with this line of thinking, arguing that biased programming would lead to accidental deaths, and without limitation these machines would cause many more deaths than human soldiers could. They also argue that the decision of taking a human life should not be put into the hands of AI. 

“Distinguishing between a fearful civilian and a threatening enemy combatant requires a soldier to understand the intentions behind a human’s actions, something a robot could not do,” reasoned a report released by the Human Rights Watch in 2012. 

“Robots would not be restrained by human emotions and the capacity for compassion, which can provide an important check on the killing of civilians. 

Autonomous weaponry is already being implemented in some countries, and as AI technology improves it's likely to get ever more sophisticated
(Image via

There is no doubt that as AI technology grows more sophisticated, the potential for implementing it in weaponry is all but guaranteed. Whether international groups are successful in putting forward a complete ban on killer robots, or merely limiting the technology, discussion of its use will continue for some time.

Japan’s Foreign Minister, Taro Kono, commented on LAWS in January:

“Just as gunpowder and nuclear weapons changed the way wars were conducted in the past, artificial intelligence could fundamentally alter the course of future wars.”

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