'Killer Robots' Take Centerstage at UN Conference

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By Athena Yenko | May 13, 2014 4:53 PM EST

Killer Robots, or the fully autonomous lethal weapons, were reportedly in operation in some remote locations.

BAE Systems of UK had developed killer robots called as Taranis that were launched in an isolated testing range in southern Australia in fall. The UK government had been discreet about the Taranis, which is known to have been seen in public on only two occasions.

Speaking with Vocativ, Peter Asaro, a robotics expert and professor at the New School in New York City, said the closest replica of a killer robot is found on the border of South Korea and North Korea.

"One of the closest examples is on the border between South Korea and North Korea-robot sentries topped with machine guns stand watch for intruders in the demilitarized zone. It looks a bit like a tall R2D2 and has a machine gun on top. It's used in a remote-operated mode, but it has the capability for fully autonomous, so it can use its cameras to detect human targets and fire at them," Asaro said.

For the first time, the debate on killer robots takes centerstage at a UN conference in Geneva.

Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) invited two scientists to debate whether killer robots pose threats to human rights or it is about time for them to be deployed in the battlefield.

Prof. Noel Sharkey, co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots in 2013, will argue that killer robots are "big risks" to humanity.

While Prof. Ronald Arkin, an American roboticist, thinks that killer robots are essential as they can replace human soldiers deployed on the battlefield.

"My biggest concern is that when every nation has this technology, we will start seeing the full automation of warfare. Some people propose that this technology will save our soldiers' lives because we will send in machines to do our fighting for us. But that only works if the other side does not have machines, because they will send them in to kill our soldiers," Sharkey told NBC News.

Robots are unpredictable that no amount of precautions could instruct them how to interact with each other, Sharkey said.

 "Nobody knows really at all how these different systems will interact with each other," he added. Meanwhile, Arkin argued these robots can be controlled in accordance to international humanitarian law.

 "Robots can potentially comply with international humanitarian law as well or better than human war fighters. We are not talking about systems with free will or moral agency - those will not exist anytime in the near future, if ever. The "Terminator" sci-fi vision is a red herring, despite its persistent use by the press," Arkin said.

BUt the two debating scientists agreed on one thing: UN should come up of a moratorium or temporary ban against using killer robots up until countries reach a compromise.

Asaro, who will also present his opinions in the UN convention,  said killer robots are "very comparable to chemical and biological weapons in the sense that they're morally appalling and they're far too dangerous to use."

"It just makes more sense to have across-the-board prohibition of them than to try to carefully regulate what could be potentially beneficial uses. There are rare instances in the real world where the use of chemical and biological weapons is morally justifiable. Letting those happen also lets a whole lot of bad things happen."

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