British Columbia

Killer robots: what do people think about autonomous weapons?

A UBC think tank says their new survey shows widespread misgivings about the role of autonomous weapons on modern battlefields.

Survey was international in scope, will be presented at UN convention

An unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night. This drone has a human controlling it; are we ready for fully autonomous weapons? (Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press)

A University of British Columbia think tank that looks at how robotics and artificial intelligence operate in society says results of a new international survey show widespread discomfort with the idea of fully autonomous robots for military use.

Open Roboethics Initiative will be sharing the results of the survey at the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons this week.

"We definitely hope we can engage more people in this discussion, and bring their opinions into the laws and policies that are currently being made," Open Roboethics member Shalaleh Rismani told On The Coast's Gloria Macarenko.

Rismani says that fully autonomous weapons — robots that make life or death decisions on the battlefield — don't exist yet. But they are in development.

Some of Open Roboethics' conclusions from the survey of just over 900 respondents were as follows:

  • 67 per cent said all types of autonomous weapons should be internationally banned
  • 56 per cent said autonomous weapons should not be developed or used
  • 85 per cent said autonomous weapons should not be used for offensive purposes
  • 71 per cent said they would rather their country use remotely operated weapons (like drones) instead of autonomous weapons when waging war

"The reluctance that we got for endorsement of development of autonomous weapons shows that we really need to have more engagement in these topics," Rismani said.

Rismani says it is her hope that the UN convention will lead to greater international engagement on the issue.

To hear the full story, click on the audio labelled: Say no to Skynet: survey shows concern over autonomous weapons