Killer robots on the battlefield? The new generation weapon systems that cause reactions

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More and more countries are investing in new generation weapon systems such as kamikaze drones. The UN summit in Geneva is trying in vain to put an end to their use.

It might look like a science fiction movie but it’s not. The kamikaze drones they wreak havoc. Equipped with cameras, sensors and propellers they “lock on” to their target, act independently and attack. The algorithm provides them with this “independence”. After completing the attack they self-destruct. The use of these weapons is for another year the subject of negotiations at the United Nations Conference on Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva, which began last week with the participation of 80 countries.

Unlike remote-controlled weapons, these weapons by definition have the ability to independently seek, select, and handle the last phase of the attack. Arms companies use it artificial intelligence and mechanical engineering to create deadly weapons. Their critics call them “killer robots”, referring to deadly autonomous weapons systems that can be either drones or robotic machines or submarines. Countries participating in the Summit have different views on the handling of “autonomous” weapons. Some call for their use to be banned as an algorithm should not decide the outcome of a war conflict, while others call for binding rules. The basic requirement is preservation of human potential which will control the specific weapons systems at all times.

Since 2014, the international community has held twice-yearly sessions to discuss the controversial issue. The positions of the states are diametrically separated. The US, Russia and China are resisting measures that would set binding rules or ban the use of these weapons because they fear strategic and military disadvantages. The war in Ukraine also hampered the negotiations as Russia last March blocked the last meeting by not endorsing the agenda.

Russia’s veto

The Russians were unhappy as they were sanctioned. That is why they prevented the start of negotiations“, says o Uzman Noor. He is involved in the campaign “Stop Killer Robots”, an NGO, which calls for a ban on the use of such weapons. Noor considers the principle of consensus that applies to the meeting one of the biggest obstacles. “A country can stop the whole process with the veto! It is time for those in favor of banning them to leave the ineffective Geneva forum which has now become obsolete» reports Uzman Noor.

Talks in Geneva failedsays Vanessa Voss, an autonomous weapons researcher at the Bundeswehr University in Munich. “If autonomous weapons systems go wrong and possibly commit war crimes, who will take responsibility?» the scientist wonders, emphasizing the gap of responsibility that exists. It seems more difficult than ever to resolve such issues through meetings especially because of the war raging in Ukraine. Some states see banning autonomous weapons systems as more urgent than ever, while others see futility.

There are indications that Russia is using autonomous weapons systems in the war with Ukraine, which are supposed to be kamikaze drones“, Uzman Noor points out. Artificial intelligence scientists have long warned that small armed drones can be mass-produced cheaply and programmed even by computer science students. “If no weapons operator is needed, one can send tens of thousands or even millions of weapons» states British artificial intelligence researcher Stuart Russell in an interview with DW. “In doing so, we are creating weapons more lethal than the atomic bomb.”

State investment in new technology weapon systems

Despite the calls for a ban on robotic arms, states because of the war in Ukraine are investing more money in their armed forces, preferably in modern weapons systems of a new generation. Germany is investing an additional 100 billion euros in the federal army and in weapons systems such as the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) that are powered by artificial intelligence. The German government does not seem to want to completely renounce the military advantages of next-generation weapons as it did not take a clear position on the issue at the Geneva summit. But it is not the only country, as the UN cannot single-handedly enact a ban on robotic weapons or set binding rules for their use.

The United Nations is looking for an alternative, a state that will lead a ban movement and convince other states. The Netherlands may be the pillar of this alternative. According to researcher Vanessa Voss, time is pressing alongside technological progress that is becoming dangerous.That’s why we need new rules before the worst-case scenario is verified.”

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