BAE Systems' Taranis, a semi-autonomous unmanned warplane, that will use stealth technology and can fly intercontinental missions and attack both aerial and ground targets
14 Nov 2013 By Harriet Alexander - telegraph.co.uk
'Killer Robots' could be made illegal if campaigners in Geneva succeed in persuading a UN committee, meeting on Thursday and Friday, to open an investigation into their development
The first steps towards the outlawing of "killer robots" could be taken on Thursday, as a UN committee meets to decide whether to investigate banning the controversial technology.
Campaigners are hoping that representatives from 117 states gathering for a two-day annual meeting in Geneva will agree to an inquiry into the development of the machines, which they say pose a serious threat to the world.
"People initially accused us of being in some kind of fantasy world," said Noel Sharkey, professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at Sheffield University, and one of the founders of the Stop the Killer Robots coalition. "But now they have realised that significant developments are already under way.
"At the moment we already have drones, which are supervised by humans – I have a lot of issues with these, but they can be used in compliance with international law.
"What we are talking about however is fully-automated machines that can select targets and kill them without any human intervention. And that is something we should all be very worried about."
The UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) brings together representatives to discuss issues such as the use of chemical gases and landmines.
France is currently chair of the organisation, and campaigners are hopeful that Ambassador Jean-Hughes Simon-Michel, chairman of the CCW, will persuade delegates to support an inquiry. Just one veto to the proposal, however, would prevent it being discussed.
No country has admitted to developing this kind of technology – although Oliver Sprague, Amnesty International UK's Arms Programme Director, said that Britain, the US and Israel were the countries thought to be furthest down the road of development.
"We are not talking about Terminator-style robots," said Mr Sprague. "It is most likely to be a drone – or something even more mundane, like a row of computer banks that look through the data, find the target and then call in the order for an attack.
"The UK has said that we would never develop systems that operate without a level of human control. But what does that mean? It could be as little as someone keeping a vague eye on a series of computer monitors."
The campaigners maintain that there is a well-founded fear that computer-controlled devices could "go rogue" – or be hacked, jammed or copied by terrorists. They also say that we should not hand decisions over whether something is right and wrong to machines.