UN told to ban killer robots before they become a reality

Killer robot
Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic have a strong and eye-catching message for the U.N.: “Ban killer robots.” The two groups take up the cause against fully autonomous weapons in a 38-page report released ahead of an international meeting about said weapons starting April 13.

“Fully autonomous weapons, also known as ‘killer robots,’ raise serious moral and legal concerns because they would possess the ability to select and engage their targets without meaningful human control,” begins the report, titled Mind the Gap: The Lack of Accountability for Killer Robots. Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School lay out a list of concerns about fully autonomous weapons, including doubts about their ability to distinguish civilian from military targets, the possibility of an arms race, and proliferation to militaries with little regard for the law.

All of those concerns are compounded by the accountability gap for “unlawful harm caused by fully autonomous weapons,” according to the report. Under current laws, parties associated with the use or production of killer robots (e.g., operators, commanders, programmers, manufacturers) would not be held liable in the case of harm caused by the robots. The ultimate solution proposed by the report is to adopt an international ban on fully autonomous weapons.

On Monday, a weeklong international meeting about autonomous weapons systems will take place at the U.N. in Geneva. The agenda will cover additions to The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

“Also known as the inhumane weapons convention, the treaty has been regularly reinforced by new protocols on emerging military technology,” according to The Guardian. “Blinding laser weapons were pre-emptively outlawed in 1995 and combatant nations since 2006 have been required to remove unexploded cluster bombs.”

The paper is an early discussion of a hypothetical future world, and the authors of the paper admit as much: “Fully autonomous weapons do not yet exist, but technology is moving in their direction, and precursors are already in use or development.” The examples listed in the paper all respond to threats automatically, putting them a step beyond drones, which require a human to control it from a remote location.

“No accountability means no deterrence of future crimes, no retribution for victims, no social condemnation of the responsible party,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior Arms Division researcher at Human Rights Watch and the report’s lead author. “The many obstacles to justice for potential victims show why we urgently need to ban fully autonomous weapons.”

In November 2013, an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal co-authored by two professors disputed the notion that fully autonomous weapons need to be banned. Malicious actors already disposed to abusing such weapons would not respect a ban, argued Kenneth Anderson and Matthew Waxman. “Moreover, because the automation of weapons will happen gradually, it would be nearly impossible to design or enforce such a ban.”

Anderson and Waxman also suggested that autonomous weapons could reduce suffering and protect human lives rather than the opposite. Nevertheless, the co-authors said careful regulation is warranted.

“Autonomous weapons are not inherently unlawful or unethical,” they concluded. “If we adapt legal and ethical norms to address robotic weapons, they can be used responsibly and effectively on the battlefield.”

Emerging Tech

Eric Geusz: Apple engineer by day, spaceship designer by night

An Apple software engineer by day, artist Eric Geusz spends his nights drawing everyday household objects as amazing, science fiction-style spaceships. Check out the impressive results.

Suck up the savings with these vacuum cleaners on sale for $100 or less

Keeping your floors clean around the home is a constant chore. To help make things a whole lot easier, we've picked out some great vacuum cleaner deals available right now, from full-sized upright models to robot vacs.
Movies & TV

Here are the best shows on Netflix right now (August 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix right now (August 2019)

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.

Minneapolis bans drive-through windows in bid to keep pedestrians safe

Minneapolis recently took the first step in denying the significance of automobiles in American culture when the city council enacted a ban on drive-throughs. The local authority argued the ban will result in safer roads and cleaner air.
Emerging Tech

The black hole at the center of our galaxy is flaring and no one knows why

At the heart of our galaxy lies a supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*. Normally this giant monster is relatively docile, but recently it's been a hotbed of unexpected activity, rapidly glowing 75 times brighter than normal.
Emerging Tech

Wreckage, reefs, and robots: The high-tech quest to find Amelia Earhart’s plane

Over 80 years ago, American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart disappeared while trying to fly around the world. Now an autonomous water-based robot could help find some answers. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

SpaceIL’s crashed lander may have sent thousands of tardigrades to the moon

When the SpaceIL craft Beresheet crashed into the moon earlier this year, it left more than just an impact mark. Thousands of micro-animals called tardigrades were along for the ride and may have survived the crash.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s satellite projects will study the sun using solar sailing

Small satellites can be used for all sorts of purposes, and NASA has been searching for ideas to push ahead the capabilities of the hardware. The agency has announced two new projects to demonstrate the potential of small satellites.
Emerging Tech

Hubble captures a beautiful cosmic jellyfish made of glowing gas

A new image from Hubble might look like a deep-space jellyfish, but it's not a sign of extraterrestrial life - in fact, it's a planetary nebula called NGC 2022, located in the constellation of Orion (The Hunter).
Emerging Tech

Parker Solar Probe makes a second orbit of the sun, captures solar wind on video

The Parker Solar Probe, launched last year, has completed its second orbit around the sun. To celebrate, the team responsible for the probe has released a video showing solar winds in action.

Starman on Tesla Roadster makes first orbit around sun, braces for loneliness

Starman and his Tesla Roadster, sent by SpaceX to outer space last year, have completed their first orbit around the sun. The people on Earth may be able to catch a glimpse of the cherry-red electric vehicle on November 2020.
Emerging Tech

Bernie Sanders calls for a ban on police use of facial recognition

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders is calling for a complete ban on the use of facial recognition by law enforcement as part of the new criminal justice reform plan he introduced this weekend.
Emerging Tech

On the fence about buying solar panels? Tesla now offers them for rent

With solar rental Tesla says “customers get the best from solar power — clean, cheap energy to power homes and vehicles — without upfront costs or decades-long agreements. In fact, customers can get solar power with one click, instead…