Ten year old Bethany Clifford-Tait is concerned about a future that includes autonomous weapons systems aka ‘killer robots’. Such were her worries that she wrote to the producers of the oldest and most popular BBC children’s programme Blue Peter to ask them to spread the word to other children across the country in one of their TV shows. The producers were so impressed that Bethany has been awarded the much coveted Blue Peter badge (see picture).
We at ICRAC are delighted with Behany’s work and applaud her request. ICRAC chairman Professor Noel Sharkey said, “it is wonderful to see such a sense of responsibility in one so young. This is the very generation that is most likely to suffer from the use of these weapons if we cannot get them prohibited. The power of one so young speaking out for her generation should not be underestimated.”
We at ICRAC work for a future where robots serve peaceful purposes rather than being weaponized, inter alia by providing expertise and engaging with the media, the general public and the international community at the United Nations. We strongly support Bethany’s request to the BBC to let other children know about the future dangers that they could be facing with the automation of war.
With Bethany’s (and her dad’s) friendly permission we reproduce her request here. Bethany writes:
For a new episode I would like for you to do it about “The Campaign To Stop Killer Robots”. It is a campaign to stop people building robots programed to kill someone without human intervention. The tin robot David Wreckham was on Blue Peter in 2003 as a waiter but now this robot has a more serious mission.
He was made by my Uncle Ray. My dad and my uncle make robots and one of them called “Skeletron” won an award in BBC’s Techno Games where they met Professor Noel Sharkey and became friends.
Ten years later, Noel asked for some help with an event in London. This was the “Campaign To Stop Killer Robots”, so last year my Dad, Matt Tait, and my uncle, Raymond Tait, went off to the House of Commons with David Wreckham.
This is a kind of boring interview but it tells you about the campaign. Grown ups might understand it but it isn’t child-friendly!
That’s what I want you to do.
The “Campaign To Stop Killer Robots” is to stop humans building robots programmed to kill someone without a human there to take responsibility for “the kill”.
At the moment drones have to be flown by remote control so a human is there and can stop it. But we are very close to being able to program the drone to work independently without a human there, which means that soon we can let the drone make the decision. The problem is that they might make the wrong decision and kill the wrong person or innocent people in the area and no-one will be held responsible.
The campaign wants politicians and world leaders to think about this and put laws in place to make people responsible for the machines they create or use.
Why is this important for children to understand?
Children are being taught computer programming in schools and should be made aware of the morals and consequences of their actions instead of just believing their work can only be used for games and apps. It’s our world and our future and we ought to have a say in how it’s run.
By Bethany Clifford-Tait