Killer robots are coming: Scientists warn UN needs treaty to maintain human control over all weapons

"Scientists who specialize in Artificial Intelligence are warning that technology has advanced to the point where we will soon see lethal weapons that can decide to kill completely free of human control. Killer robots raise the prospect of a new kind of war; one in which it’s possible to selectively target and slaughter entire populations at little cost. Some scientists are so alarmed by the far-reaching possibilities that they have banded together to create the Stop Killer Robots campaign, which hopes to create a new protocol in the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons at the UN, enshrining the need for humans behind the kill switches. The Post’s Jen Gerson spoke with campaign spokesperson Peter Asaro, who was in Geneva.

Q When people picture “killer robots” they are often thinking of the Terminator. Is a human-like killer robot possible within the foreseeable future?

A A human-like robot is both technically challenging and not so practical. Moving around in a cluttered environment is very challenging, so we will see aerial and sea-based (surface and submarine) robots first, because there are fewer things to collide with. Self-driving cars are still a big challenge, and roads are fairly well structured. Moving through a forest, or a building is much more challenging. Just getting robots to walk, especially on uneven surfaces and stairs is really technically challenging, as is doing things that seem simple to us, like opening doors. Also, moving lots of joints uses lots of energy, so wheels are much more energy efficient than legs. Humanoid robots are probably the furthest off in terms of real-world applications.

Q What kinds of killer robots are being used right now, and what will we see in the future?

A The Samsung SGR-A1 is a Sentry robot that sits on a turret with a machine gun and a camera. It’s deployed on the demilitarized zone by the South Korean government. It’s a human-supported model and not authorized to shoot automatically, but that’s already in the field.

There’s another, an Israeli sentry system that is a Jeep that drives along a perimeter wall.

Then you have systems that are in development that are coming very soon: the next generation of aerial drones are far more autonomous in their capability.

On the science fiction side of things we could see slaughterbots. (As fictionalized in a video produced by the campaign, these small drones would use cameras, AI, explosives, and facial recognition software to seek out and kill people en masse.) Those are highly targeted individualized kill bots. What our video shows is that you could drop millions of these from airplanes inexpensively and then use search criteria that work much like targeted marketing campaigns — except they would be targeted killing campaigns. These would allow you to select some type of criteria for the people you want to slaughter and it would just go slaughter those people automatically."

Read the full interview at the National Post.