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Ban on Killer Robots is another UN loopy idea

June 1, 2013

Ban on Killer Robots is another UN loopy idea

The headlines have followed the latest UN obsession – Killer Robots.

You have to wonder whether there are certain sections of the United Nations staff that have nothing better to do that to watch some B-Grade Sci-Fi and quiver at its implications. The killer robots are coming and we have to stop them before it is too late. However Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions is calling for a worldwide moratorium on so-called, “lethal autonomous robotics”. As a co-author of a report called “Losing Humanity – The case against killer robots” Heyns outlines all the concerns that may occur in a fully automated/ robotic war system.

Heyns claims that, “Machines lack morality and mortality, and as a result should not have life and death powers over humans.”

Make lug-nuts not war.

It has been a staple since Science Fiction novels were first written. A robot is created by an enthusiastic scientist but somehow his creation goes wrong and the soulless monster now tries to kill everyone around it. If you think this story is familiar you are right, it is Frankenstein. In more modern science fiction the soulless monster is replaced with an even more soulless humanoid machine; a construction that ironically looks like a doll and has no emotions, mercy or compassion. Despite looking something like their creator it is its lack of humanity that sets it apart from humans. Instead we face a terminator whose primary objective is to kill. Like in the film Terminator, it cannot be reasoned with, it has no mercy and above all, it will not stop.

Who needs flesh when you are this awesome?

The face of death

With the passing of the years, many of these sci-fi stories become the butt of endless jokes. The reason why so many of the old movie robots are treated like a joke is because their concepts are usually pretty silly. There is a kind of false humanity foisted upon the machine. They are to be seen as nothing more than heartless machines in one moment but driven by human ambitions and desires in the next. For example: they want to run the planet; they want to exterminate the vermin of humanity; they want to make humans slaves; they want to turn humans into robots just like them; they hate human inefficiency. In a logical context, none of these ambitions make sense, but in an emotional context, they are perfectly normal, albeit dark, motives.

Reading the “Losing Humanity” report you may get the false impression that a wave of killer robots was about to be unleashed. It is even argued that robots could make war more likely. However by the end of the report we are presented with what appears to be its’ catalyst. There are numerous references to unmanned drones and the Obama Administration policy to use them against insurgents and terrorists.

There is vagueness about whether any moratorium would put a stop to the current drone warfare policy. However this seems to be the ambition of some of the ‘anti-robot’ clique.

Killer Robots may just be a metaphor to criticize Drone Warfare

The Fairfax news ran an opinion piece by Wally Aly that echoes the belief that robots would make war more likely because there a kind of ‘contract’ in conventional war.

“War is a kind of contract. Each side confronts the other, with the risk of death and defeat. In short, war should come at a cost. That contract is shredded when you’re attacked by something that cannot itself be killed. It’s not remotely a fair fight. It’s scarcely a fight at all. For all the horror, pain, and gore of the battlefield, there’s something to be said for it. It’s one of the very best reasons every nation has not to go to war. The greater the sacrifice, the graver the decision to fight.”

Here Wally Aly is off in Noddy Land imagining that war is a ‘fair fight’ where each side risks ‘death and defeat’. If only the greater sacrifice of war prevented war then would never have had any to start with. The reality is that even without the help of robots people can be heartless and cruel with no regard for human life. If you think that wrong then try explaining Stalin, Pol Pot and Hitler, aerial bombing of cities, mustard gas, germ warfare and even atomic weapon. All of these war tactics have shredded the same ‘contract’ that Wally Aly imagines exists.

As the UN meets once again and its little sub-committee do what they can to look important, another wacky idea captures a headline. ‘Killer Robots’ just seems to be this week’s wacky headline. Yet as people sit down and start to think beyond the fiction they may remember how many of the same accusations were aimed at computers just a few decades ago.

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