Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern Leads Fight Against Killer Robots

Watch out, Robocop - Rep. Jim McGovern wants to ban all “autonomous weapons’’ like you.
Watch out, Robocop - Rep. Jim McGovern wants to ban all “autonomous weapons’’ like you. –The Boston Globe

Watch out, RoboCop — Jim McGovern is coming for you.

The Democratic Massachusetts Representative wants to see an international ban on the development and use of “killer robots’’ on the battlefield. McGovern convened a special Capitol Hill briefing and panel discussion on the topic this week.

If you’re imagining an army of Terminators right now, you’re not totally off.

These machines can decide who to target and when to attack, without any human input.

The technology for fully autonomous killer robots is still decades away, but McGovern says it’s not too soon to start considering the implications of the technology.


“The only thing harder than getting a ban in place is getting a ban in place after something is developed,’’ McGovern said at the briefing. Calls to his office were not immediately returned.

Even though they sound terrifying, killer robots could potentially save a lot of human lives, the National Journal reported:

On the one hand, if effective, robot soldiers could replace ground troops and prevent thousands of American casualties. And robots aren’t susceptible to many of the weaknesses that plague humans: exhaustion, sickness, infection, emotion, indecision.

Opponents say the technology raises ethical and legal questions about whom to hold accountable if a robot makes a mistake.

“Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield is an unacceptable application of technology,’’ writes the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a coalitions of non-governmental organizations working to ban fully autonomous weapons. “A comprehensive, pre-emptive prohibition on fully autonomous weapons is urgently needed.’’

Killer robots differ from unmanned drones, their autonomous weapon brethren. These unmanned aerial vehicles allow US forces to strike targets remotely, from thousands of miles away.

But there’s still someone behind a desk, somewhere, deciding on the target and the use of force.

The briefing isn’t the first call for a moratorium on lethal robots.

In May, the United Nations met to discuss the questions raised by the development of Lethal Autonomous Weapons (LAWS). “All too often international law only responds to atrocities and suffering once it has happened,’’ said UN Acting Director-General Michael Moller.


The members will meet again in November 2014 to discuss possible next steps.

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