Over the next week, I’ll be blogging from Geneva, where 118 nations (if they all show up) will be meeting to discuss “Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems” (LAWS) and, you know, the fate of humanity. You may have seen headlines about the United Nations trying to outlaw killer robots, which is a bit inaccurate. First of all, the UN can’t actually outlaw anything; Security Council resolutions are supposed to have the force of law on matters of international peace and security, but apart from attempts to shackle miscreants like Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, the Security Council has never tried to impose arms control on the major military powers, most of which can just veto its resolutions anyway. And anyway, the first point is irrelevant; this meeting is taking place under a subsidiary of the UN, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), whose full name is actually longer and even more boring-sounding than that but has something to do with “excessively injurious” or “indiscriminate” weapons. As an aside, I note that “excessively injurious” weapons are the ones that don’t kill you, not the ones that do. But delegating the issue of autonomous weapons to the CCW is more related to the notion that stupid killer robots, like land mines, would be unable to distinguish civilians from combatants, hence “indiscriminate.”
|The author (on the right)|
Full disclosure: I am a member of one of those NGOs, the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, part of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a multinational coalition led by Human Rights Watch. I don’t speak for them; in fact, I am liable to say things that higher-ups in the hierarchy don’t want to hear (but should listen to, IMHO). But at least you know where I stand (and where I will sit in the big room), in case you were still wondering. I’m grateful to my colleagues on Futurisms for inviting me to blog here, although they may not agree with everything (or anything) I say, either, so please don’t call in drone strikes on them; let me be the martyr, please, if anything I say arouses your human capacity for violence.
Another preview post to come tomorrow, and then more over the next week as the meeting proceeds.