Canada Is Being Tasked With Leading The Charge Against A New Generation Of "Killer Robots"
Killer robots are one of the best-known staples of science fiction. From the Omni Corporation's mechanized military to Skynet's robotic suppression force, malevolent machines have been a consistent trope - one which is about to become a reality. Military technology is becoming more advanced, more autonomous, and more powerful. For many, that notion's more than a little disconcerting.
After all, when a robot is capable of selecting an firing on a human target without human help, where does one draw the line between friend and foe? How does one prevent such technology from being compromised or falling into the wrong hands? They're questions that have been at the fore of robotics ever since the first robot was dreamed up.
That we're removing humans from the decision to kill verges on terrifying, and poses a whole plethora of moral and philosophical problems.
With that in mind, Canada is being called on to lead a new international effort to ban the manufacture and distribution of robotic killing machines, known as The Campaign To Stop Killer Robots.
"It was not long ago that the world considered the landmine to be the perfect soldier," explained head of Mines Action Canada Paul Hannon. "It is now banned because of the humanitarian harm it has created."
According to Hannon, these autonomous weapons were primitive versions of machines such as Hollywood's Terminator, and their production signaled a profound change in the very nature of warfare.
"Canada led the movement to ban that weapon; it is one of the most successful international treaties of our era."
Rather than allowing such weapons to become widely-used, continued Hannon; it would be far better to squelch their development before that happens. Once the "weaponization genie" is out of the bottle, it's significantly harder to put it back. For this reason, swift action is absolutely necessary - even though there's currently no evidence that Canada is working on such technology.
"Just because we've been told no research is being contracted on the subject, that doesn't mean it isn't," Hannon noted, adding that "there's not a lot of transparency on this."
What's more, even if Canada's not currently doing any work on the subject, a number of other countries are: The United States, Britain, Israel, China, Russia, and South Korea are all known to be working on and manufacturing autonomous weaponry. Even though the technology doesn't exist yet, progress on it is moving so rapidly that we could see automatic weapons hit the battlefield within the next few years.
Now, there are certainly plenty of arguments in favor of autonomous weapon systems, as well. With the use of robotic proxies, the loss of human life in the event of military action could be cut to a minimum. Not only that, the improved efficiency of a completely robotic military could potentially reduce the duration of any wars fought by a drastic amount. The question we need to ask is whether or not these boons are really worth the risk.
The annals of science fiction are rich with stories of killer robots, and the topic of ethics is a well-tread one in the robotics industry. If we're not careful, the issues addressed in fiction could become very, very real.