Lawmaker Wants to Stop Killer Robots While He Still Can
Policy + Politics

Lawmaker Wants to Stop Killer Robots While He Still Can

Terminator Salvation/The Halcyon Company

One lawmaker in Washington is raging against the machine.

While the Pentagon’s top scientists develop technology that may one day replace human soldiers on the battlefield, Rep. Jim McGovern is trying to put an end to the “killer robots” while he still can.

McGovern has been leading the charge in Washington to ban lethal robotic technology from the military even though it doesn’t exist (that we know of.)

Related: Rise of the Killer Robots: Hint—This is Not a Movie

Earlier this week, the Massachusetts Democrat held a panel on Capitol Hill with Pentagon officials, robot experts and anti-killer robot advocacy groups to push his plan to ban the terminator-like technology.

“The only way to stop killer robots, McGovern told the panel, is to ban them before they exist,” The National Journal first reported.

Advocates of autonomous military machines say they will significantly reduce soldier casualties and injuries, since the military can send these robots into dangerous places without risking human lives.

But opponents like the Campaign Against Killer Robots, which is pushing for a worldwide ban on the technology, say there are a number of major issues with taking the human element out of combat situations.

McGovern joined the anti-lethal military robot movement after having serious ethical and legal issues with the United State’s use of predator drones to hunt down people across the world. McGovern’s concerns over lethal robots go further, since he believes they would be able to select and attack targets on their own without human intervention.

Related: Robots to Replace Troops on the Battlefield

At least that’s what transformers do, along with grossing $213,444,938 to date in America alone.

McGovern’s panel this week was Capitol Hill’s first formal discussion about killer robots. It was organized as part of an effort by anti-robot advocacy groups to alert other lawmakers about concerns over lethal robots.

Panelists raised a wide variety of concerns ranging from moral and ethical issues to more technical questions about accuracy, development and regulation.

Bonnie Docherty, an arms expert at Human Rights Watch and a lecturer at Harvard Law, brought up the issue of judgment and discussed the importance in accuracy for humans to be able to react to context.

"We have serious concerns that a fully autonomous weapon could ever reach that level,” she told the group.

Related: If No One Pulls The Trigger Who’s To Blame?

Likewise, Dr. Peter Asaro, vice-chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, reiterated her concern, saying that since robots lack "a meaningful understanding of context and situation…It's hard to believe that a machine could be making those kinds of meaningful choices about life and death."

However, advocates of these robots say they are equipped with technology that addresses these ethical concerns.

Erik Schechter, a defense and security issues expert, detailed in the Wall Street Journal, special software called the “ethical governor” which measures the robots proposed action against the rules of engagement and international humanitarian law. “If the action is illegal, the robot won't fire,” Schechter wrote.

Related: Here’s Why Robots Could Humanize War

Though no one has introduced federal legislation applying to the development of killer robots, Hawaii State Rep. Angus McKelvey introduced draft legislation in February urging the federal government to  “place a moratorium on the development, production, deployment, and use of lethal autonomous robotics” and “encourage other nations to do the same until an internationally agreed upon framework on the future of autonomous robotics has been established.”

Meanwhile, The Department of Defense has issued a policy brief that established a five to 10-year moratorium on killer robot development.

Still, the Defense Advance Research and Projects Agency (DARPA) has already invested millions into military robotics meant for the battlefield. Last year alone, it spent $7 million on research to try to upload a soldier’s consciousness into a robot, otherwise known as the singularity. DARPA has also doled out $11 million to develop robots that are capable of acting autonomously, The Fiscal Times previously reported.

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