The U.N.’s special investigator into human rights will call Thursday for a ban on “killer robots” that could attack targets without human direction, before such devices come into existence.

“Machines lack morality and mortality, and as a result should not have life and death powers over humans,” Christof Heyns, the organization’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, will reportedly tell a U.N. meeting in Geneva. The world’s experts in warfare technology warn that the leading military powers are moving so rapidly in the direction of “lethal autonomous robotics” that a pre-emptive ban is essential.

“States are working towards greater and greater autonomy in weapons, and the potential is there for such technologies to be developed in the next 10 or 20 years,” Bonnie Docherty of Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic explained to The Guardian. Doherty co-authored a report on the subject with Human Rights Watch.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Pentagon spends roughly $6 billion a year on research and development of unmanned weapons. In November, the Department of Defense adopted rules stating that fully autonomous weapons could be used only “to apply nonlethal, non-kinetic force, such as some forms of electronic attack.”

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

The Guardian:

In his submission to the UN, Heyns points to the experience of drones. Unmanned aerial vehicles were intended initially only for surveillance, and their use for offensive purposes was prohibited, yet once strategists realised their perceived advantages as a means of carrying out targeted killings, all objections were swept out of the way.

Drone technology has already moved a step closer to a fully autonomous state in the form of the X-47B, a super-charged UAV developed by the US Navy that can fly itself, and which last week completed the first takeoff from an aircraft carrier. The drone is billed as a non-combat craft, yet its design includes two weapons bays capable of carrying more than 4,000lbs.

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