The United Nations will next week consider just what kind of autonomous weapons should be banned.
The UN group that will consider the issues is called the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, convened by the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons*. The Convention’s been going since 1979 and in 1980 delivered rules forbidding the use of blinding lasers, landmines, booby traps and incendiary weapons.
The Convention has continued to consider which weapons should be barred from the battlefield ever since and in recent years has started to consider autonomous weapons due to fears they struggle to pick out combatants and therefore kill or injure civilians.
The Group of Governmental Experts has given itself a day to work on “Characterization of the systems under consideration in order to promote a common understanding on concepts and characteristics relevant to the objectives and purposes of the Convention” and a day-and-a-half to discuss “Further consideration of the human element in the use of lethal force; aspects of human-machine interaction in the development, deployment and use of emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems.”
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Time has also been set aside to ponder “Further consideration of the human element in the use of lethal force; aspects of human-machine interaction in the development, deployment and use of emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems.”
All that’s just next week. In August 2018 the meeting will re-convene and revisit those topics, and resume discussion on “Possible options for addressing the humanitarian and international security challenges posed by emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems in the context of the objectives and purposes of the Convention without prejudging policy outcomes and taking into account past, present and future proposals.”
There’s no expected date for a final declaration on what kind of KillBots will be declared an uncivilised way to kill people. But the Convention hopes it can come up with something sooner rather than later, while also remaining mindful that the field is developing very quickly and that civilian applications of autonomous technology look very promising. ®
*Full name: “Group of Governmental Experts of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects.” Or GOGEOTHCPTTCOPOROTUOCCWWMBDTBEIOTHIE for short.