With the help of the “killer robots” in war would be a violation of international law, lawyers say

(Credit: Paramount)

Fully autonomous weapons would violate international law if it is used in a theater of war, the lawyers say, that claim that there is a “moral duty” to ban robots that are programmed to kill.

If the US, China and Russia push to become leaders in weapons powered by artificial intelligence, long-term calls for a ban on killer robots, which experts fear could lead to an all-out, very destructive war, have grown.

According to a new report by Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International human Rights Clinic argues that such autonomous weapons, in violation of the Martens Clause—a provision of international humanitarian law which are widely accepted worldwide.


It requires emerging technologies to be assessed by the “principles of humanity” and “dictates of the public conscience” if they are not already covered by the other provisions of the treaty.

Specialists from 26 countries, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, have called for a ban on fully autonomous weapons.

“Allow the development and use of robots would lead to undermining the established moral and legal standards,” Bonnie Docherty, senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch, the coordination of the Campaign Stop Killer Robots, told the Guardian. “Countries should work together to preemptively ban these weapons systems before they spread all over the world.

Docherty continued: “The tide of opposition among scientists, religious leaders, tech companies, non-governmental groups, and ordinary citizens shows that the public understands that killer robots cross a moral threshold. Their concerns, shared by many governments, earning an immediate response.”

Governments from more than 70 countries meeting of the United Nations in Geneva on 27 August for the sixth time to discuss the challenges of fully autonomous weapons.

A Russian arms manufacturer showed a prototype of a killer robot that could pick up and fire weapons.

(Kalashnikov Concern)

“The idea of the transfer of life-and-death decisions to be cold, compassionless machines without empathy or understanding are not able to meet the Martens clause and it makes my blood run cold,” Noel Sharkey, a roboticist who wrote about the reality of the robot war as far back as in 2007, told the British publication.


“Some states would prefer to shift from a ban protocol that requires a positive obligation to ensure meaningful human control, and both amount to the same humanitarian law,” he added.

Although fully autonomous weapons do not yet exist, experts are of the opinion that their use will be disseminated in a matter of years. In addition to the paper reports that at least 381 partly autonomous weapons and military robotics systems have been implemented or are in development in 12 countries, including France, Israel, the US and the UK.

Russia, allegedly, against the prohibition of fully autonomous weapon systems, merging of several others – including the U.S. – that would seek to block any future negotiations.

Research by the International Data Corporation has suggested that the global spending on robotics is going to double from $91.5 billion in 2016 to $188 billion in 2020.

Christopher Carbone is a reporter and news editor covering science and technology for He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @christocarbone.

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