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Killer robots must be regulated, says German foreign minister

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Friday called for international cooperation on regulating modern autonmous weapons systems.

Speaking at the “2019. Capturing Technology. Rethinking Arms Control” weapons conference in Berlin, Maas warned of the uncontrollable risks of autonomous weapons systems, high-tech rockets, cyber attacks and biological weapons.

“Killer robots that make life-or-death decisions on the basis of anonymous data sets, and completely beyond human control, are already a shockingly real prospect today,” Maas said. “Fundamentally, it’s about whether we control the technology or it controls us.”

The United Nations and the European Union have both called for a global ban on autonomous weapons, but so far few internationally-accepted rules exist for such systems.

“The multilateral political system appears paralysed in the face of potential threats,” Maas told around 450 gathered experts, politicians and diplomats. He called for progress at talks under the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) this year. The CCW will hold talks on autonomous weapons in Geneva later this month.

“We want to want to codify the principle of human control over all deadly weapons systems internationally, and thereby take a big step toward a global ban on fully autonomous weapons,” Maas said.

Read more: 10 things to know about ‘killer robots’

Global treaty

The German government is thus far torn on whether to impose new restrictions on exports of autonomous systems, with its tough stance on exports already being criticized by fellow EU member states.

Mary Wareham, coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, urged Germany to pursue a global treaty, rather than a non-binding declaration.

Read more: Boeing crash: Do machines make better decisions than people?

“Measures that fall short of a new ban treaty will be insufficient to deal with the multiple challenges raised by killer robots,” she said in a statement.

Russia, Israel, South Korea, China and the United States are all developing autonomous weapons.

  • Terminator robot from the famous film

    Technologies that revolutionized warfare

    AI: ‘Third revolution in warfare’

    Over 100 AI experts have written to the UN asking them to ban lethal autonomous weapons — those that use AI to act independently without any human input. No “killer robots” currently exist, but advances in artificial intelligence have made them a real possibility. The experts said these weapons could be “the third revolution in warfare,” after gunpowder and nuclear arms.

  • Painted scene of British soldiers fighting France during the Napoleonic Wars

    Technologies that revolutionized warfare

    Gunpowder

    The “first revolution in warfare” was invented by the Chinese, who started using the black substance between the 10th and 12th centuries to propel projectiles in simple guns. It gradually spread to the Middle East and Europe in the following two centuries. Once perfected, firearms using gunpowder proved to be far more lethal than the traditional bow and arrow.

  • Scene from the siege of Mainz following the French Revolution in 1793

    Technologies that revolutionized warfare

    Artillery

    The invention of gunpowder also introduced artillery pieces to the battlefield. Armies started using basic cannons in the 16th century to fire heavy metal balls at opposing infantrymen and breach defensive walls around cities and fortresses. Far more destructive field guns were invented in the 19th century and went on to wreak havoc in the battlefields of World War I.

  • British soldiers with a machine gun in the trenches during WWI

    Technologies that revolutionized warfare

    Machine guns

    Guns that fire multiple rounds in rapid succession were invented in the late 19th century and immediately transformed the battlefield. Machine guns, as they came to be known, allowed soldiers to mow down the enemy from a protected position. The weapon’s grisly effectiveness became all too clear in WWI as both sides used machine guns to wipe out soldiers charging across no man’s land.

  • WWI - Biplans fly in formation

    Technologies that revolutionized warfare

    Warplanes

    Military thinkers did not ignore the invention of the first airplane in 1903. Six years later, the US military bought the first unarmed military aircraft, the 1909 Wright Military Flyer. Inventors experimented with more advanced fighter and bomber aircraft in the following years. Both became standard features in many of the national air forces established by the end of WWI.

  • German tanks and military transport during the German invasion of Poland during WWII

    Technologies that revolutionized warfare

    Mechanization

    Armies had traditionally used soldiers and horses to fight and transport military equipment. But around WWI, they started using more machines such as tanks and armored vehicles. Faster and more destructive armies were the result. Nazi Germany put this new form of “mechanized warfare” to destructive effect in WWII using an attack strategy known as “Blitzkrieg” (“lightning war”).

  • V-2 rocket launch

    Technologies that revolutionized warfare

    Missiles

    Although artillery was effective, it had a relatively limited range. The missile’s invention in WWII suddenly allowed an army to strike a target hundreds of kilometers away. The first missile — the German V-2 — was relatively primitive, but it laid the foundation for the development of guided cruise missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

  • US jets fly over Korea in 2017

    Technologies that revolutionized warfare

    Jet engine

    Jet aircraft first saw action alongside traditional propeller airplanes at the end of WWII. Jet engines dramatically increased an aircraft’s speed, allowing it to reach a target quicker and making it far harder for an adversary to shoot it down. After WWII, military reconnaissance planes were developed that could fly higher than 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) and faster than the speed of sound.

  • French atom bomb test near Mururoa

    Technologies that revolutionized warfare

    Nuclear weapons

    The “second revolution in warfare” announced its horrific arrival on August 6, 1945 when the US dropped the first nuclear bomb — “Little Boy” — on the city of Hiroshima in Japan, killing between 60,000 and 80,000 people instantly. In the Cold War that followed, the US and Soviet Union developed thousands of even more destructive warheads and raised the specter of a devastating nuclear war.

  • German soldier works with a radar screen

    Technologies that revolutionized warfare

    Digitization

    Recent decades have witnessed the ever more prevalent use of computers to conduct war. The devices made military communication quicker and easier and radically improved the precision and efficiency of many weapons. Armed forces have recently focused on developing cyber warfare capabilities to defend national infrastructure and attack foreign adversaries in cyberspace.

    Author: Alexander Pearson


aw/rt (Reuters, dpa)

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