UN Secretary-General Calls to Ban ‘Killer Robots’

During a meeting in Geneva on Monday, Secretary-General António Guterres called upon the international community to ban lethal autonomous weapons
December 13, 2021 Updated: December 13, 2021

News Analysis

On Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened a conference in Geneva by calling for a ban on lethal autonomous weapons (LAWs).

“I encourage the Review Conference to agree on an ambitious plan for the future to establish restrictions on the use of certain types of autonomous weapons,” said the Secretary-General at the opening of Monday’s meeting.

In recent years, with new advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence, there have been growing concerns about LAWs, which use programmed instructions to seek out and incapacitate targets, potentially without the oversight of a human controller.

The meeting in Geneva was occasioned by a recent U.N. report‘s conclusion that fully autonomous weapons may have debuted in Libya in March 2020, during a skirmish in which Turkish-produced autonomous drones were used to hunt fleeing partisans of Libyan General Khalifa Haftar.

“Logistics convoys and retreating HAF [Haftar Affiliated Forces] were subsequently hunted down and remotely engaged by the unmanned combat aerial vehicles or the lethal autonomous weapons systems such as the STM Kargu-2 (see annex 30) and other loitering munitions,” says the U.N. report. “The lethal autonomous weapons systems were programmed to attack targets without requiring data connectivity between the operator and the munition: in effect, a true ‘fire, forget and find’ capability.”

Critics of LAWs portray a harbinger of unprecedentedly efficient violence and an outlet for policymakers and military leaders to avoid accountability for abuses. Whereas previously the movement relied on technical language, activists have become increasingly sensationalist in their attempts to raise awareness of the dangers of LAWs. In 2017, opponents of LAWs received an influx of press after releasing the short video “Slaughterbots,” which portrays a dystopian future of automated drone attacks on civilians

In 2015, the Future of Life Institute attracted attention after announcing an open letter to ban LAWs, signed by an unlikely coalition including Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Noam Chomsky, Jack Dorsey, and a legion of AI researchers, among others.

Proponents argue that LAWs can eliminate human error from target selection and that the use of these weapons has the potential to reduce total collateral damage relative to other weapons.

While many countries favor an outright ban on these technologies, the major powers of geopolitics are reluctant to support such a measure: The United States, China, Russia, and India find themselves as strange bedfellows in opposing international laws to restrict automatous weapons, while a growing chorus of smaller nations and activists make up the movement for their restriction. Last month, New Zealand became the latest of over thirty nations to call for a full ban on LAWs.

However, given the consensus of major world powers on the matter, any attempt to eliminate these technologies will face an uphill battle. With Monday’s announcement, Secretary-General Guterres indicated his commitment to the movement, but he will face immense obstacles in his efforts to stop LAWs from becoming widespread in international warfare.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Nicholas Dolinger is a business reporter for The Epoch Times and creator of "The Beautiful Toilet" podcast.