Observer: Rise of the Robots and the Future of War

Sunday 21 November 2010, the Observer reports on the technological development in unmanned systems, quoting ICARC’s Noel Sharkey. He …

… says it is impossible for autonomous robots today to distinguish reliably between civilians and combatants, a cornerstone of international humanitarian law. He also believes robots lack the subtle judgment to adhere to another humanitarian law: the principle of proportionality which says civilian causalities must not be “excessive” for the military advantage gained.

“It’s not always appropriate to fire and kill,” Sharkey [explains]. “There are so many examples in the Iraq war where insurgents have been in an alleyway, marines have arrived with guns raised but noticed the insurgents were actually carrying a coffin. So the marines lower their machine guns, take off their helmets and let the insurgents pass. Now, a robot couldn’t make that kind of decision. What features does it look for? Could the box be carrying weapons?”

The full text of the article can be found here.

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