It would be difficult to argue that the technological advancements that have been made in recent years have not been for the betterment of humanity. Almost every aspect of technology has been designed to make our lives easier, safer and even make us live longer – from ADAS in our cars and robotic surgery to smart homes and the IoT.
However, one technological enhancement that will have many shrinking in fear is the emergence of robotics in law enforcement and military applications. Drones and UAVs have been used in military theatres around the world for some time, and earlier this year, the US experienced its first ever instance of a police UAV using lethal force - during the Dallas shootings.
For many this event ushered in a new era of law enforcement with Terminator-esque scenarios of robots making life and death decisions being only a matter of time. However, the United Nations (UN) has moved to nip this robot rise in the bud with several members prepared to heed the warnings from artificial intelligence experts.
Regulations on such weaponry look set to be a top priority for member states next year and only last week 123 nations at the International Convention on Conventional Weapons in Geneva, Switzerland, voted to form a group of international experts to tackle the issue.
The use of lethal autonomous machines, that can select and kill targets without the intervention of a human operator, have been described as the third revolution in warfare (after gunpowder and nuclear arms), and concerns over their use have been raised with the likes of Stephen Hawking, Steve Wozniak and Elton Musk calling for a complete ban – warning that if any major military power pushed ahead with AI weapon development it would inevitably trigger a global arms race.
Speaking at the convention in Switzerland, Steve Goose, Arms Director of Human Rights Watch, a co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, said: “The governments meeting in Geneva took an important step toward stemming the development of killer robots, but there is no time to lose. Once these weapons exist, there will be no stopping them. The time to act on a pre-emptive ban is now.”