from The Internationalist and International Institutions and Global Governance Program

Can Civil Society Succeed In Its Quest to Ban ‘Killer Robots’?

A Royal Marine poses for photographers with the Unmanned Vehicle Robot, Testudo, at the launch of the Defense Technology Plan in London on February 26, 2009. Luke MacGregor/Reuters

November 17, 2017

A Royal Marine poses for photographers with the Unmanned Vehicle Robot, Testudo, at the launch of the Defense Technology Plan in London on February 26, 2009. Luke MacGregor/Reuters
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More on:

Defense Technology

Robots and Artificial Intelligence

Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and Disarmament

Diplomacy and International Institutions

Civil Society

The following is a guest post by Megan Roberts, associate director of the International Institutions and Global Governance program, and Kyle Evanoff, research associate, international economics and U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Autonomous weapons are on the agenda in Geneva this week. The Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, which has members and observers drawn from national governments, intergovernmental organizations and civil society, is holding its first meeting since it was established last year under the auspices of the U.N. Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, or CCW. On the table for discussion are the technical, legal, military and ethical dimensions of machines capable of making battlefield decisions without human oversight.

The stakes are high. Autonomous weapons have, in recent years, catapulted into the defense and security strategies of the world’s leading powers. Top-ranking officials in Russia, China and the United States, recognizing the military potential of advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, have invested billions into developing the technologies. That has led a growing ensemble of civil society actors to voice concerns that automated warfare will jeopardize human rights, international law and global security. A litany of groups and individuals, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams, have advocated an international prohibition on autonomous weapons, pinning their hopes on the United Nations and the CCW.

Can they succeed in their quest for a ban?

You can find our thoughts in our World Politics Review article.

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