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Fear of ‘killer robots’ using AI to target humans grows as Ukraine war rages on

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KILLER robots have raised ethical concerns as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine demonstrates the carnage of modern war.

Autonomous weapons are powered by artificial intelligence algorithms and fire on targets without human input.

Ukrainian soldiers taking part in a military exercise

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Ukrainian soldiers taking part in a military exerciseCredit: AFP – Getty
Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed interest in growing Russia's AI sector

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed interest in growing Russia’s AI sectorCredit: Getty Images – Getty

There are no confirmed cases of an autonomous weapon being used to kill humans (though there are suspicions a free-wheeling drone with no operator was deployed in Libya in 2020).

Autonomous weapons could reduce the amount of risk human soldiers are exposed to – an obvious strategic benefit for a country at war.

But the weapons systems could also make errors that result in destroyed cities and civilian casualties – potentially committing war crimes in the process.

Nations with the capacity to produce autonomous weapons are left with a strategic and moral dilemma, especially while the conflict between Russia and Ukraine rages on.

The AI system could scan a battlefield and select targets for destruction – it’s simple enough, on paper.

But James Dawes, an expert on the weaponization of AI, wrote a harsh review of autonomous weapons and their potential for The Conversation:

“When selecting a target, will autonomous weapons be able to distinguish between hostile soldiers and 12-year-olds playing with toy guns? Between civilians fleeing a conflict site and insurgents making a tactical retreat?”

Worse yet, a robot cannot be held accountable for mistakes in battle – the charge of responsibility has nowhere to go.

Attempts to regulate autonomous weapons have met walls put up by threat actors while human rights organizations plead for their ban.

Russia boycotted a February 2022 conference on autonomous weapons regulation and will abstain from discussions continuing this month.

Meanwhile, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a non-profit organization, conducted a survey and found that 61% of respondents from 26 countries oppose the use of lethal autonomous weapons.

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To experts, the most likely cause of an autonomous weapons arms race is the use of killer robots against the Ukrainians.

“I can guarantee, if Russia deploys these weapons, some people in the US government will ask ‘do we now, or will we later, need comparable capabilities for effective deterrence?’,” diplomacy expert Gregory Allen told New Scientist.

A United States policy position on autonomous weapons set during the Obama administration is due for a planned 10-year review

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A United States policy position on autonomous weapons set during the Obama administration is due for a planned 10-year reviewCredit: Getty Images – Getty



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