Stop the automation of warfare and killer robots

On Thursday 10th April Afri, in association with the International Peace Studies Programme, Irish School of Ecumenics, will host the Irish launch of the campaign to Stop Killer Robots in Trinity College Dublin (see details below). The keynote speaker will be Professor Noel Sharkey, a well known robotics and artificial intelligence expert from the University of Sheffield, UK and Chairman of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control.

Professor Noel Sharkey is calling on the Irish Government to show leadership on the crucial issue of fully autonomous weapons as he visits Dublin for the launch of the Irish campaign to Stop Killer Robots. During his visit to Dublin Professor Sharkey will meet with Afri, Amnesty International Ireland, Pax Christi Ireland as well as with officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Irish Defence Forces.

Professor Sharkey stated that “There is great concern that several nations are developing weapons that once activated could select their own target and attack them with violent force without human intervention. These weapons are variously known as Fully Autonomous Weapon (FAWs), Lethal Autonomous Robots (LARS), Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) and Killer Robots.

But do we really want to delegate the decision to kill humans to a machine? Is this not crossing a fundamental moral line in the ultimate violation of our human rights and indignity? If we do not act, our silence will let it happen.” Governments must act to ensure that human control over targeting and attack decisions is never relinquished to machines in the future.

Afri, as a peace and human rights organisation which opposes war and militarisation, is delighted to host Professor Noel Sharkey at the launch of the Stop Killer Robots campaign in Ireland. As a member organisation of this campaign, Afri sees this as a timely launch, in the context of moves by some countries towards the use of lethal autonomous robotic weapons and strongly supports the campaign for a comprehensive ban on all such weapons.

Afri’s Co-ordinator, Joe Murray, in calling for an urgent ban of autonomous weapons stated that “The world is already over-armed to an alarming extent, the devastating consequences of which, are seen and experienced day and daily in the form of wholesale injury, death and destruction. What is urgently needed is a de-escalation of this insane obsession with war, weapons and violence. Should we allow the monumentally insane policy of developing fully autonomous weapons to be pursued then even the element of human intervention will be sidelined and we will have war and violence of epic proportions. It is time to wake up and shout stop.”

In May this year, delegates from more than 100 nations will meet at the United Nations in Geneva for the Convention on Conventional Weapons (including Ireland) for a 4 days experts’ meeting to discuss concerns over these dangerous new weapons.

Between them, the US, UK, China, Russia and Israel have already been developing autonomous robot aircraft, submarines, tank-like machines and Naval vessels that could carry weapons. Other nations with high-tech militaries, such as China and Russia, are believed to be moving toward systems that would give full combat autonomy to machines.

“At present robot weapons do not have the capability to comply predictably with International Humanitarian Law. They cannot distinguish between civilians and combatants and they are incapable of making decisions about the proportional use of force” said Professor Sharkey. “If we do not stop autonomous weapons now, we are on a slippery slope towards the full automation of violent force in warfare. This will be a major disruption to international security and no one can predict how it will turn out.”

Professor Sharkey is a principal spokesperson for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a global coalition of more than 50 non-governmental organizations active in two dozen countries that launched in April 2013. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is calling for a new international treaty to prohibit the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapons. In Ireland, participating organisations include Afri, Amnesty International Ireland, and Pax Christi Ireland.

Professor Sharkey said that, “As an Irishman I would be very proud if my homeland was to take up a leadership role in stopping the headlong rush into the automation of death.”

But there are other concerns outside of warfare, as Amnesty International Ireland’s Executive Director, Colm O’Gorman says, “The use of Lethal Autonomous Robots would result in unlawful killings and injuries both in situations of armed conflict, where both international humanitarian law and international human rights law apply, and in law enforcement operations, where international human rights law applies.

International human rights law requires states to only use lethal force law where there is an imminent threat of death or serious injury, and when we speak to technologists or government officials about this, none of them can convince us that a machine can actually do that. That’s why we think that any ban or moratorium that comes into force must cover the use of such weapons both in conflict and non-conflict situations.”

Tony D’Costa of Pax Christi Ireland, another Irish NGO involved in the campaign, believes that these weapons cross a totally unacceptable threshold that is most dangerous to our shared morality. “Autonomous weapons have nothing good to offer us”, he says, “They threaten global peace and international security. They can only lead us all further along the path to self-annihilation. They undermine the whole landscape of those basic universal human values which protect innocent civilians from harm in times of war or other conflict.”

The Irish Launch of the Campaign Stop Killer Robots will take place on April 10th 2014, 7pm with a talk about the technical, moral and legal issues by Professor Noel Sharkey.

Irish School of Ecumenics – Loyola Institute building (facing rubgy pitch), Trinity College Dublin. Organised by Afri in association with the International Peace Studies Programme, Irish School of Ecumenics: /

Professor Sharkey will also talk about the issues on Wednesday 9th April at University College Dublin in Lecture Theatre O of the Newman Building, Organised by the UCD Philosophy Society.

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