Monthly Archives: April 2014
Mines Action Canada and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots hosted a number of events in Ottawa over the past two days to begin the discussion in Canada about autonomous weapons. We were pleased to have Mary Wareham, Global Coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and Advocacy Director, Arms Division at Human Rights Watch along with Peter Asaro, Professor at the New School and Vice-Chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) join us and local expert Ian Kerr, in Ottawa for the events. Be sure to check out the great summary of the events on the Campaign’s website.
On April 28th, we met with other peace, disarmament and development organizations to talk about the campaign and to begin to build a stronger civil society presence in Canada on this issue. There was a lot of a interest from our non-profit colleagues so we look forward to hearing more voices on this issue in the near future.
Later that day, we hosted a public event at Ottawa City Hall. There was a panel discussion with Peter, Paul, Mary and Ian followed by a rather lively Question and Answer session with the audience. The audience was generally quite supportive of the Campaign and our efforts to achieve a pre-emptive ban on autonomous weapons. Audience members with backgrounds in engineering, law, the military and politics all expressed concern about the development of killer robots.
The following morning, MAC hosted a breakfast briefing for parliamentarians and their staff, other NGOs and decision makers in Ottawa. The Bagels and ‘Bots breakfast was the first time some of these decision makers had heard of the issue and it seemed to strike a chord with many in the room. After breakfast, the team was off to Parliament Hill for a press conference. At the press conference and in MAC’s press release, campaigners called for Canadian leadership on this issue internationally and for Canada to be the first country in the world to declare a moratorium on the development and production of killer robots.
The media in Ottawa and across the country have taken quite an interest in these events. The Canadian Press story was picked up in newspapers across the country as well as national media outlets and there was an associated list of facts about killer robots. The Sun News Network, and Ottawa Citizen also covered the Campaign while MAC has received a number of radio interview requests. Paul Hannon, Executive Director, was on CKNW Morning News with Philip Till.
One very exciting result of these activities is that The Globe and Mail’s editorial team has come out in support of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and our call:
The world has a long banned some weapons deemed dangerous, indiscriminate or inhumane, including chemical weapons and land mines. Autonomous robot weapons carry all such risks, and add new ones to the list. They are not wielded remotely by humans, but are intended to operate without supervision. They’re about turning life and death decisions over to software. Canada should be a leading voice advocating for a global protocol limiting their development and use.
Also Jian Ghomenshi on CBC Radio’s Q called for Canadian leadership on killer robots, he says that leadership on this issue is something Canadians could be proud of and that it could be a legacy issue for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The Keep Killer Robots Fiction initiative is off to a great start. You can get involved by signing and sharing the petition at: http://bit.ly/KRpetition.
by Brett MacFarlane
When I first applied for an internship position to work on the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots back in November, I knew virtually nothing on either the campaign or the killer robots issue. I chose the internship with Mines Action Canada as my top choice because it was the position which most closely related to my field of study: Conflict Analysis and Conflict Resolution. When submitting my application, I had a conversation with my fellow students on just what exactly were killer robots. The general consensus of the group was that killer robots had to be drones that were being militarily used in such countries as Pakistan and Yemen.
Since joining the International Campaign to Stop Killer Robots in January, I have had the privilege of being exposed to a new issue that has not been discussed by the general public or even most international affairs students. I learned about current development efforts by militaries to create robotic weapons which would have complete autonomy to choose whether or not to fire on a specified target without meaningful human control. Most disturbingly I learned that some countries (e.g. the United States, Israel, and several others) have not only taken steps to develop “human-out-of-the-loop weapons”, but that some current technologies could easily be adapted to become autonomous weapons. As a student studying in an international affairs program and as a concerned person, this issue raises human rights and humanitarian concerns.
The use of autonomous weapons is a troubling issue for human rights advocates and humanitarian organizations because it would make humans increasingly vulnerable in warfare where international law is not designed to accommodate autonomous weapons. First, how could the protection of civilians be guaranteed in times of combat? If human judgment is taken out of the battlefield, robots would be tasked with distinguishing armed combatants from ordinary citizens. In this scenario, would a robot have the capability to differentiate between a soldier holding a weapon from a child holding a toy gun? The potential to have such mistakes be made is likely to occur so long as robots are given higher autonomy and decision-making capabilities on the battlefield. Further, the development and use of autonomous weapons could pose serious issues of accountability in war. For example, if a robotic system was to go awry and end up massacring a village of non-combatants, who would be held accountable? Would it be the systems operator of the machine, the military, the computer programmer, or the manufacturer of the machine? Without military troops in the air, land, or sea, who can be held liable for the actions of robots in combat? Implementing the use of autonomous robots in war would severely reduce the legal protections civilians are accorded during conflict.
I am very concerned that putting autonomous weapons on the battlefield would change how wars are fought and conducted. Wars would no longer be fought by the military personnel of two opposing sides; but by autonomous weapons, capable of making their own ‘kill decision’, against human forces. Countries which have the financial means to develop autonomous weapons could threaten lesser developed countries who would bear the costs of higher human casualties on the battlefield. More importantly, the potential for an increase in future conflict will grow as the decision to enter into combat would be much easier for leaders to make as they would not have to bear the costs of human casualties. The concern here is that countries would be sending machines to fight against humans, instead of the traditional model of human versus human. As difficult as this may be to hear, it is only through the casualties of soldiers on the battlefield that we are able to see the true cost of warfare. Taking human sacrifice out of the battlefield could potentially cause an increase in future warfare.
As interest in the topic of killer robots in the international community grows, it is pertinent that students, and indeed all citizens, begin to discuss the development of autonomous robots for military use in their respective fields. Should silence continue not only in the academic community, but in the Canadian parliament and public domain, the potential for autonomous robots to make life and death decisions on the battlefield without human control may be realized. As one concerned student, and citizen, who has signed the petition to Keep Killer Robots Fiction, I strongly encourage all to Keep Killer Robots Fiction by not only gaining exposure and increasing their knowledge on the subject, but to join me in signing the petition at http://bit.ly/KRpetition. Only through increased discussion and knowledge of this topic in the general community can pressure be mounted on governments to create a pre-emptive ban on this emerging threat.
Brett MacFarlane interned at Mines Action Canada and is a Master of the Arts Candidate at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University specializing in Conflict Analysis and Conflict Resolution.
Come join us to launch the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots in Canada.
Join us at Ottawa City Hall for a panel discussion on fully autonomous weapons, led by Mines Action Canada and including guest speakers:
- Ian Kerr – Professor, University of Ottawa, and Canada Research Chair for Ethics, Law and Technology (Ottawa, ON)
- Mary Wareham – Advocacy Director – Arms Division, Human Rights Watch, and Global Coordinator for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots (Washington, DC)
- Peter Asaro – The New School for Public Engagement and Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (New York, NY)
- Paul Hannon – Executive Director, Mines Action Canada (Ottawa, ON)
Where? : Ottawa City Hall – the Colonel By room
When? : April 28th, 7:00 pm (Doors at 6:45 pm)
Check out the Public Event Flyer for all the details.