“Killer robots” are almost a old hat now; being a topic of science fiction action and horror movies for a long time since the late 20th century. Ideas and stories like the “Skynet”, from the movie Terminator, have gained a place in popular culture, are basically just conscious robots created for warfare that eventually turn on humans.
While this article is not going to focus on the mystic theories of autonomous technologies getting out of hand and trying to take over the world, we will be discussing the development in robots intended to be used for warfare and their regulation on national and international levels.
So what are killer robots? How developed are they?
A killer robot is a robot intended to replace a soldier; a robot does not require food and medical aid continuously, can resist a lot of damage, can carry a lot of gadgets or ammunition and obviously does not have a family to be compensated in case it is destroyed. This makes a robotic soldier a very efficient warfare unit and a topic of interest for many researchers.
Although there is scarce research directly aimed at creation of a killer robot, there are a lot of separate studies that can be integrated for the production of such a robot very easily. A killer robot, for example, requires excellent movement; ability to run, jump, roll etc, a great sense of detecting danger and targets like a human.
Studies in legged robotics and object detection serve just the purpose and there are agents and countries utilizing the said research for warfare.
Drones capable of shooting electric-shock darts, tear gas and pepperball already exist. Israel recently deployed semi-autonomous drones to fire tear gas at protesters in Gaza, and we are likely to see more use by law enforcement agencies of this kind of technology in future.
What makes these killer robots so problematic?
The Future of Life Institute, a nonprofit launched its sensationalistic short film Slaughterbots at a side event hosted by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots at the CCW’s meetings on November 2017.
The film, which depicts a dystopian near-future menaced by homicidal drones, immediately went viral because of its depiction of extremely realistic and feasible tiny drones intended to monitor college students and target the few with certain affiliations or even open ideas. The horrifying shots of bee sized drones massacring college students in a hall stirred quite a debate, which was the intention of the movie altogether.
But that’s about a movie discussing and anticipating the threats associated with mass production of killer robots or usage of robots created for lethal usage, in reality, there are a number of NGO’s, people and and even governments advocating for a ban or regulation of Lethal Autonomous Weapons (LAW’s).
So what about the regulations on these robots?
The topic is going to be discussed in the UN conference of Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) very soon. This is what the chair of the committee Amandeem Gill has to say,
“The Convention on Conventional Weapons provides a range of possibilities for controlling weapons use, either banning systems in advance or accepting their inevitability but proscribing their use in certain scenarios, or prescribing some ways of exchanging information or warning people on their use, etc. So banning LAW’s is one of the possibilities among the options. But there could be yet another option. There are some states that are quite content with leaving this to national regulations, to industrial standards. So at this point in time, there is no consensus on any option.”
To conclude, there is no law or regulation on the usage of killer robots as of now; but considering the global concern over the issue, the topic is expected to gain popularity.