Mines Action Canada and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots have been busy talking about autonomous weapons this winter.
MAC Executive Director, Paul Hannon, traveled to Halifax to speak to the Canadian International Council’s (CIC) local AGM. In his talk, he shared the game plan to stop killer robots drawing on lessons from the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines. The CIC posted Paul’s accompanying blog post to this lecture which you can find online. The blog post states quite clearly it’s decision time for Canada on autonomous weapons.
“The third revolution in warfare is coming fast. Unlike most revolutions we know this one is coming. What is even more unusual is that we can stop this revolution before it starts. Before anyone is injured or killed. It will take a lot of political will by many countries including Canada. Do we have the will and more importantly the courage to use it?”
Mary Wareham, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots’ coordinator, spoke to the prestigious Munich Security Conference in February. A public event on artificial intelligence and modern conflict organized by the conference saw common views emerge from different perspectives against weapons that, once activated, could identify, select and attack targets without further human intervention. The event opened with remarks by a “robot” and featured a panel where Mary spoke alongside the president of Estonia, a general from Germany, and a former head of NATO. The recap of that event is available on the global campaign’s website.
One of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots’ co-founders Noel Sharkey of the International Committee for Robot Arms control will be speaking Halifax on March 21. Noel will debate Duncan MacIntosh, Professor of Philosophy at Dalhousie University, on the role of autonomous weapons and the question to what degree should we be concerned? More details are available here.
On March 28, Erin Hunt, Program Coordinator will join ThePANEL to discuss autonomous weapons and the campaign. The AI Arms Race: Should We Be Worried? brings together experts from Canada and the U.S. to debate the impact of AI on global politics and human rights. Tickets are available online.
Wherever we are talking to the public about autonomous weapons, one thing is clear: Canadians, like others around the world, are expecting their government to come up with a plan to prevent the development of autonomous weapons soon. In order to make that happen, MAC and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots are working hard in preparation for the Group of Governmental Experts meeting in Geneva in April.
Mines Action Canada welcomes the letter calling for a ban on the weaponization of Artificial Intellegence (AI) from the Canadian AI research community which was sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. This letter follows a number of international letters in recent years (from faith leaders, scientists, Nobel laureates, company founders and others) addressed either to the UN or the global community in support of actions to prevent the development of autonomous weapons.
“This letter is evidence that Canadian AI community wants to see leadership from Canada,” said Paul Hannon, Executive Director, Mines Action Canada. “Clearly Canada should become the 20th country to call for a pre-emptive ban on autonomous weapons and to lead a process to ensure that autonomous weapons systems never arrive on the battlefield.”
More than 200 AI researchers in Canada signed the open letter to the Prime Minister “calling on you and your government to make Canada the 20th country in the world to take a firm global stand against weaponizing AI. Lethal autonomous weapons systems that remove meaningful human control from determining the legitimacy of targets and deploying lethal force sit on the wrong side of a clear moral line.”
The letter goes further asking “Canada to announce its support for the call to ban lethal autonomous weapons systems at the upcoming United Nations Conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). Canada should also commit to working with other states to conclude a new international agreement that achieves this objective.” One of the letter’s authors, Dr. Ian Kerr of the University of Ottawa wrote an op-ed in the Globe and Mail bringing the letter’s message to Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
Dr. Kerr notes, “it is not often that captains of industry, scientists and technologists call for prohibitions on innovation of any sort, let alone an outright ban. But the Canadian AI research community is clear: We must not permit AI to target and kill without meaningful human control. Playing Russian roulette with the lives of others can never be justified. The decision on whether to ban autonomous weapons goes to the core of our humanity.”
This letter has been released one week before the international community meets under the auspices of the CCW to discuss the issue of autonomous weapons systems. Mines Action Canada’s Programme Coordinator, Erin Hunt will be attending the meeting next week in Geneva. She said “in past discussions at the CCW, some states have expressed concern that a prohibition on autonomous weapons systems would have a negative impact on AI research more broadly. This letter and the similar one released by Australian AI experts show that those concerns are misplaced. The AI research community is calling for the opposite – bold and decisive action to prohibit autonomous weapons systems in order to support the development of AI that would benefit humanity.”
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is deeply disappointed that the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) has cancelled a crucial week of formal discussions on fully autonomous weapons in August. This step was taken because of the failure of several states, most notably Brazil, to pay their assessed dues for the convention’s meetings.
“The collective failure of countries to find a solution to their financial woes doesn’t mean they can stop addressing concerns over weapons that would select and attack targets without further human intervention” said Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch, coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “If the CCW is unable to act, nations must find other ways to maintain the momentum toward a ban,” she said. “Countries that agree with the need to retain human control of weapons systems should move swiftly to adopt national policies and laws and to negotiate a new international treaty prohibiting fully autonomous weapons.”
The call for a preemptive ban on fully autonomous weapons has been endorsed by 19 countries and dozens more states have affirmed the need to retain human control over the selection of targets and use of force. This clearly indicates that they see a need to prevent the development of fully autonomous weapons. Last December, China became the first permanent member of the UN Security Council to find that new international law is required to regulate fully autonomous weapons.
The Campaign calls on Canada and all countries to urgently address the enormous humanitarian challenges posed by these weapons by endorsing the call for a ban. It is vital and urgent that all stakeholders work together to secure a new international treaty before these weapons are unleashed.
“Canada has a long history of taking action when the CCW is unable to move forward,” said Paul Hannon, Executive Director of Mines Action Canada, a co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “We are calling on Canada to act now to ensure that there is always meaningful human control over weapons. The international community cannot let the work done thus far go to waste.”
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots fundamentally objects to permitting machines to take a human life on the battlefield or in policing, border control, and other circumstances. It calls for a preemptive ban on fully autonomous weapons through new international law as well as through domestic legislation.
Following the launch of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and a debate in the Human Rights Council, countries agreed in November 2013 to begin discussing what they called lethal autonomous weapons systems at the Convention on Conventional Weapons at the United Nations in Geneva. The CCW is a framework treaty that prohibits or restricts certain weapons and its 1995 protocol on blinding lasers is an example of a weapon being preemptively banned before it was acquired or used.
Most of the CCW’s 124 high contracting parties participated in three meetings on lethal autonomous weapons systems in 2014-2016, in addition to UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Last December at their Fifth Review Conference CCW states decided to formalize and expand those deliberations by establishing a Group of Governmental Experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems to meet in August and November 2017, chaired by Ambassador Amandeep Singh Gill of India.
However, on 30 May, the CCW’s president-designate Ambassador Matthew Rowland of the UK announced that the Group of Governmental Experts meeting scheduled for 21-25 August has been cancelled due to a lack of funds. Previously Rowland issued several warnings that that the lack of payment of assessed financial contributions would mean the likely cancellation of CCW meetings planned for 2017.
Several countries have financial arrears from previous years, but according to the UN’s official summary, Brazil accounts for 86 percent of the outstanding contributions due to four core humanitarian disarmament treaties, including the CCW. Brazil last paid its assessed CCW contributions in 2010. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots has appealed to Brazil to pay its outstanding contributions without delay and it challenges CCW states to achieve cost saving measures in other ways that do not require the cancellation of key meetings.
Several autonomous weapons systems with various degrees of human control are currently in use by high-tech militaries including CCW states the US, China, Israel, South Korea, Russia, and the UK. The concern is that low-cost sensors and advances in artificial intelligence are making it increasingly practical to design weapons systems that would target and attack without any meaningful human control. If the trend towards autonomy continues, humans will start to fade out of the decision-making loop, first retaining only a limited oversight role, and then no role at all.
Canada, France, UK, and the US supported establishing the CCW Group of Governmental Experts last December, but remain unambitious in their overall goals for the process by proposing a focus on sharing best practices and achieving greater transparency in the conduct of legal reviews of new weapons systems. Russia openly opposed the creation of a Group of Governmental Experts, but did not block multilateral consensus for establishing one.
This summer, our Executive Director, Paul Hannon, spoke with Bloomberg TV about autonomous weapons systems. You can see the whole interview here.
**CONTEST IS NOW INTERNATIONAL – STUDENTS FROM AROUND THE WORLD WELCOME TO ENTER**
Mines Action Canada is launching a Keep Killer Robots Fiction video contest for students. We are inviting students from
across Canada around the world to make and submit 2 minute video on the theme of “Keep Killer Robots Fiction“.
What is the purpose? The purpose of this competition is to find new, compelling and provocative ways to start a conversation in the public about autonomous weapons systems. Autonomous weapons systems or killer robots are future weapons that can select and fire upon targets without human control.
Killer robots have been a staple trope in fiction and entertainment for years. Over the past decade, the possibility of fully autonomous weapons is becoming closer to reality. Recently we have seen a dramatic rise in unmanned weapons that has changed the face of warfare. New technology is permitting serious efforts to develop fully autonomous weapons. These robotic weapons would be able to choose and fire on targets on their own, without any human intervention. This capability would pose a fundamental challenge to the protection of civilians and to compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law. For clarity it is necessary to note that fully autonomous weapons are not drones; drones have a human pilot in a remote location. Fully autonomous weapons are a large step beyond armed drones. You can learn more about autonomous weapons systems online at: www.stopkillerrobots.ca.
Your submission should illustrate one of the major problems with autonomous weapons systems or ask a question about handing over life and death decisions to a machine:
- A lack of accountability – who is responsible if an autonomous weapon kills the wrong person or malfunctions?
- Inability to distinguish between legitimate and legal targets and others – human soldiers must be able to tell the difference between soldiers and civilians, could a robot ever make that distinction?
- The moral issues surrounding outsourcing life and death decisions to machines – is it right to allow machines to choose to end a human life?
Please don’t limit yourself to these example questions about autonomous weapons, they are intended to inspire you to create some questions of your own to guide your project.
Who can participate? Submissions will be accepted from any contestant between the ages of 18 and 30 who is currently enrolled in post-secondary education.
How do I enter the competition? Submitting your entry to the video contest is easy! Simply complete these three steps by March 15, 2015:
- Visit the contest entry form on our website, and fill in all of the required information.
- Upload your video to Vimeo and specify the location (URL) on the entry form. Memberships to Vimeo are free.
- Submit your online entry form to the Mines Action Canada team.
The Contest Rules and other information can be found in the Video Contest Announcement. Please read the announcement carefully to ensure that your project is eligible for consideration by our panel of expert judges. The contest entry form is available online at: http://goo.gl/forms/0VOGD6mgTp.
Great news! Today, Clearpath Robotics, a robotics firm based in Kitchener, Ontario, announced a world leading policy to “not manufacture weaponized robots that remove humans from the loop” and pledged their support for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. In an open letter, Ryan Gariepy, Co-Founder and CTO, writes that “[d]espite our continued involvement with Canadian and international military research and development, Clearpath Robotics believes that the development of killer robots is unwise, unethical, and should be banned on an international scale.”
As a co-founder and the Canadian representatives of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, Mines Action Canada welcomes Clearpath Robotics’ decision and applauds their staff for their thoughtful and courageous stance on this issue. “Clearpath Robotics has set the ethical standard for robotics companies around the world. Their pledge to not manufacture autonomous weapons systems demonstrates clearly that research and development into autonomous robots and military robots does not require the creation of ‘killer robots’ and that there are many applications of autonomous robotics that can benefit humanity,” said Paul Hannon, Executive Director, Mines Action Canada. “As Canadian, I am proud that a Canadian company was the first in the world to pledge to not manufacture killer robots.”
As the international community is scheduled to discuss autonomous weapons systems at the United Nations again this fall, Mines Action Canada strongly supports Clearpath Robotics’ pledge and we join them in encouraging “those who might see business opportunities in this technology to seek other ways to apply their skills and resources for the betterment of humankind.” We look forward to similar statements from other robotics companies in Canada and around the world. Members of the public who share Clearpath Robotics’ views can sign the Keep Killer Robots Fiction petition at http://bit.ly/KRpetition while individual roboticists and scientists can join the International Committee for Robot Arms Control’s Scientists’ Call online at: http://icrac.net/call/.
Canadians are among the 270 engineers, computing and artificial intelligence experts, roboticists, and professionals from related disciplines who have signed an experts’ call to ban killer robots. The experts say “given the limitations and unknown future risks of autonomous robot weapons technology, we call for a prohibition on their development and deployment. Decisions about the application of violent force must not be delegated to machines.”
The International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) has thus far received 272 signatures from 37 countries on the statement which continues to collect signatures. In an announcement released today, Professor Noel Sharkey, Chair of ICRAC said “Governments need to listen to the experts’ warnings and work with us to tackle this challenge together before it is too late. It is urgent that international talks get started now to prevent the further development of autonomous robot weapons before it is too late.”
Canada does not currently have a policy on fully autonomous weapons and we hope that the government will engage these experts and others as they create the policy. We expect to see additional signatures from Canadian experts as this issue gains momentum. At present, the University of Toronto has the largest numbers of signatories but experts from other organizations and institutions still have time to sign the call. As the quote below from Geoffrey Hinton indicates now is the time to ensure that artificial intelligence and robotic technologies are used for the betterment of humanity.
“Artificial Intelligence can improve people’s lives in so many ways, but researchers need to push for positive applications of technology by supporting a ban on autonomous weapons systems.”
Geoffrey Hinton FRS, [founding father of modern machine learning] Raymond Reiter Distinguished Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Toronto
Prof Noel Sharkey gave a talk at TEDx Sheffield about fully autonomous weapons and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Prof. Sharkey is one of the founders of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control. He delivers a passionate call to action to stop killer robots. Take a few minutes out of your day to see him talk about his journey from a boy who loved toy soldiers growing up in the shadow of World War II to a leading campaigner in the effort to stop killer robots and protect civilians. Plus he even shares a little song about the CIA!
This week, the United Nations Human Rights Council became the first UN body to discuss the issue of killer robots. To mark the occasion, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots headed to Geneva to introduce our campaign to diplomats, UN agencies and civil society. Check out the full report from the international campaign.