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Autonomous Weapons, Killing Machines or Invaluable Asset?

By Chan Shi Yun, TIME

Published: 20 Mar 2019 - 11:54 AM

Picture depicts the Terminator robots, a type of Lethal Autonomous Weapons (LAWS), otherwise known as the ‘Killing Machines of our Future’ from the movie ‘Terminator’

Picture depicts the Terminator robots, a type of Lethal Autonomous Weapons (LAWS), otherwise known as the ‘Killing Machines of our Future’ from the movie ‘Terminator’

‘Machine of Destruction and Devastation’ This was what the delegate of North Korea used to describe the autonomous weapons. Autonomous Weapons are weapons built in with an artificial intelligence (AI) system – weapons that could identify, target, and kill a person all on their own – are quickly moving from sci-fi to reality. What was once considered only the imagination of a designer and engineer, a far-off dystopian fantasy, is now becoming a soon-to-be reality that poses a prominent and deadly threat to human society. Autonomous Warfare is much more detrimental as compared to Human Warfare. The damages they cause is irreversible, causing more casualties and devastation than ever before. Gone are the times that men fought war, war will soon be a battle solely fought by machinery.

With their technological intellect abilities, these autonomous weaponry poses a greater threat than man would have ever imagined. The weapons could be hacked. The weapons could fall into the wrong hands and be exploited. The weapons could be tools of oppression. The weapons could be smarter than we could have ever imagined and if not controlled by us, these weapons won’t serve us, we will serve them.

During the debate and discussion during the COSTAR Council Session, many delegates expressed that despite the power and deadly capabilities of these ‘Killing Machines’, they are invaluable assets to the global technological scene. One delegate specifically pointed out the dangerous Lethal Autonomous Weapons (LAWS) that are programmed to kill independently and does not require human interference. He explained that these LAWS is an immense threat to humans and should be feared by all. He argued that ‘What people do not see and understand is the jeopardy that these weapons can cause. They are not just weapons, they are killing machines, tireless and ruthless. If not stopped, the consequences would be much more dire than what men would ever have imagined’. Therefore, a heated debate was sparked off as delegates sought to find a solution to counter these ‘Killing Machines’.

Two main suggestions surfaced, namely the creation of a system of regulations and laws as well as the ban of the use of autonomous weaponry.

The system of regulations and laws was brought to attention by the delegate of the United States of America (USA). He argued that to maximise the benefit of autonomous weapons but minimise the damage to the society, strict regulations should be implemented on countries that possess any form of autonomous weaponry. These regulations include the point that countries must be responsible for any deployment of autonomous weapons, be it offensive or defensive. He added that since different countries have difference levels of advancement in this form of technology, countries that are more advanced in the automation scene should be under stringent laws to prevent the exploitation of these autonomous weapons. This suggestion had the support of many other delegates who agreed that implementation of rules and regulations can greatly maximise ‘profit’ and minimise ‘losses.

The other solution was to fully ban the use of autonomous weaponry and was pointed out by the delegate of Brunei. He reasoned that a full ban of autonomous weaponry prevents these powerful ‘Killing Machines’ from falling into the wrong hands and used for the wrong reasons to harm the human society. He added that especially for the LAWS, if deadly weapons as such were to fall into the hands of terrorists, not only will it potentially be a fatal end to the world, but tensions between countries would also heighten as countries would accuse each other of supplying the ‘Killing Machines’ to the global enemy. This suggestion was opposed by the delegate of China who argued back that the use of such advanced technology is inevitable and necessary to protect countries with the rise of cyber-threats. As a result, he elaborated that the ban of autonomous weapon was just the ‘easy way out’ and autonomous weapons could be a great asset if not exploited.

As the Council Session closed, further discussion on the issue was stalled due to the differing stands of the delegates. The council was therefore unable to come to a consensus on the issue of how to counter the cons of autonomous weaponry.