* Killer robots could be developed with 20 years
* Campaigners say the weaponry would lack accountability
* British military denies it is developing such weapons
By Li-mei Hoang
LONDON, April 23 (Reuters) - Machines with the ability to
attack targets without any human intervention must be banned
before they are developed for use on the battlefield,
campaigners against "killer robots" urged on Tuesday.
The weapons, which could be ready for use within the next 20
years, would breach a moral and ethical boundary that should
never be crossed, said Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, of the
"Campaign To Stop Killer Robots".
"If war is reduced to weapons attacking without human beings
in control, it is going to be civilians who are going to bear
the brunt of warfare," said Williams, who won the 1997 peace
prize for her work on banning landmines.
Weapons such as remotely piloted drones are already used by
some armed forces and companies are working on developing
systems with a greater level of autonomy in flight and
"We already have a certain amount of autonomy," said Noel
Sharkey, professor of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at
the University of Sheffield.
"I think we are already there. If you asked me to go and
make an autonomous killer robot today, I could do it. I could
have you one here in a few days," he told reporters.
But the technology is a long way off being able to
distinguish between a soldier and a civilian.
"The idea of a robot being asked to exercise human judgment
seems ridiculous to me," Sharkey told Reuters.
"The whole idea of robots in the battlefield muddies the
waters of accountability from my perspective as a roboticist,"
The British government has always said it has no intention
of developing such technology.
"There are no plans to replace skilled military personnel
with fully autonomous systems," a Ministry of Defence spokesman
"Although the Royal Navy does have defensive systems, such
as Phalanx, which can be used in an automatic mode to protect
personnel and ships from enemy threats like missiles, a human
operator oversees the entire engagement," the spokesman added.
But the organisers of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots say
Britain's rejection of fully autonomous weapons is not yet
"We're concerned that there is a slide towards greater
autonomy on the battlefield and unless we draw a clear line in
the sand now, we may end up walking into acceptance of fully
autonomous weapons," said Thomas Nash, director of
non-governmental organisation Article 36.
Rapid advancements in technology have allowed countries such
as the United States, China, Russia, Israel and Germany to move
towards systems that will soon give full combat autonomy to
machines, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
"We think that these kinds of weapons will not be able to
comply with international humanitarian law," Steve Goose, Human
Rights Watch executive director, told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Georgina Cooper; Editing by Jon