Gather around a campfire, kiddies.
I’m going to tell you a scary Halloween story …
Imagine a world where deadly robots roam the landscape, hunting and killing humans without remorse. The only opposition is a coalition of freedom fighters seeking to destroy these killing-machines. These brave souls warned everyone that they needed to be vigilant and ban these death drones before it was too late, but no one listened. Why? Why wouldn’t they listen?
In this story, there’s no T-800 with a ridiculous accent that can be reprogrammed to fight on the human side. There’s no Oracle either. It just us versus them and we are woefully outgunned.
Terrifying, isn’t it? Way scarier than any of those stories where the guy has a hook for a hand or whatever. Well, hold onto your s’mores, kids, because it ain’t no story. This is the future we are headed toward.
If you’ve been paying any attention to this column over the past few years, you know the robot revolution is close at hand. In 2009, I talked about the zombie-like EATR (Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot), a “steam-powered, biomass-eating military robot” that fuels itself by consuming dead flesh. Then in 2010, I warned you about the adorable, arrow-wielding killing machines that will enslave us all. And let’s not forget Watson, the Jeopardy-winning artificial intelligence that will no doubt serve as the HAL 9000 masterminding the robot revolution.
And, if all that isn’t enough, a Wired article from earlier this month explains that “Killer Robots With Automatic Rifles Could Be on the Battlefield in 5 Years.” According to the article: “Four robotics companies — HDT Robotics, iRobot, Northrop Grumman and QinetiQ — recently ran their M240 machine gun-armed robots through a live-fire demo at Fort Benning in what has been dubbed the ‘Robotic Rodeo.’ The point was to give the brass a chance to see just how viable such systems are.”
But, whenever I issue these warnings, most of you just roll your eyes, mumble “Whatever, old man” and go back to your Justin Bieber videos or Animal Crossing games or whatever it is you kids do these days. You don’t take me seriously. Luckily, some other folks do and they have started the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.
According to their website, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is “an international coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working to ban fully autonomous weapons” that was launched in April of this year. They have the following “Call to Action”:
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots calls for a pre-emptive and comprehensive ban on the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons, also known as lethal autonomous robotics. This should be achieved through new international law (a treaty), as well as through national laws and other measures.
We are concerned about weapons that operate on their own without human supervision. The campaign seeks to prohibit taking the human ‘out-of-the-loop’ with respect to targeting and attack decisions on the battlefield.
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots has been established to provide a coordinated civil society response to the multiple challenges that fully autonomous weapons pose to humanity.
While this seems like a completely reasonable stance that all humans should be behind, it is somehow not without critics. Law professors Matthew Waxman and Kenneth Anderson of the Hoover Institution Task Force on National Security and Law argue that a ban puts lives at risk. A written statement by the duo argued: “While a pre-emptive ban may seem like the safest path, it is unnecessary and dangerous. If the goal is to reduce suffering and protect human lives, a ban may be counterproductive. It is quite possible that autonomous machine decisionmaking may, at least in some contexts, reduce risks to civilians by making targeting decisions more precise and firing decisions more controlled.”
Sounds fishy, doesn’t it? And frankly, so do the names “Matthew Waxman” and “Kenneth Anderson.” Waxman? As in, a “wax man” – a robot disguised in a synthetic wax-like human shell in order to blend in as a person. And Anderson? As in Keanu Reeves’ last name in The Matrix before he rebrands himself Neo? Nice try, Watson, but I know a statement written by two robot sleeper cells when I see one.
America currently does not support the ban, undoubtedly under the influence of the powerful robot lobby. But members of the United Nations had a meeting last week and the representative from France has promised to put the topic on the agenda for a meeting in November.
It’s certainly a start, but we have a long way left to go. The robots are already ahead of the curve. They’ve infiltrated the government using human-like androids. Watson is probably looking for ways to take control of the drones as we speak. And those arrow-wielding robots are probably getting even better at their aim and even more adorable with each passing day.
So join the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots now … before it’s too late.
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. Follow Joel on Twitter @FreeMisterClark or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.