UN votes in favour of autonomous weapon rules; Russia against; Israel and Syria abstain
As tech billionaire Elon Musk and the UK’s PM talked about hypothetical kill switches, the United Nations Disarmament and International Security Committee voted on a resolution concerning the more immediate risks posed by autonomous weapons.
The outcome of the latter discussions saw the UN vote in favour of a resolution for regulation around the adoption of autonomous weapon systems (AWS), paving the way towards the negotiation of new international laws.
AWS are defined as systems that can select and attack a target without human intervention. The resolution, tabled by Austria, does not go as far as to call for negotiations, but it builds international confidence, and signals that action must be taken to safeguard against the risks posed by AWS.
The UN recorded that 164 states voted in favour to five against (Belarus, India, Mali, Niger, Russian Federation), with eight abstentions (China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, UAE).
Some believe that AWS could revolutionise warfare, suggesting that they would be faster, more accurate and more resilient than existing weapons systems and could limit the casualties of war.
Explaining his nation’s vote against, the Russian Federation representative was recorded as saying that draft resolution was “…unbalanced in discussing only risks and challenges, even though these weapons can play an important role in defence and in fighting terrorists. These weapons systems can be more effective than a human operator and can reduce the possibility of error.”
But there are concerns about the ethics of these systems, how they can be used safely and reliably, whether they risk escalating wars more quickly, and about their compliance with international laws.
Thousands of tech and AI experts and scientists, the Stop Killer Robots campaign, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the ICRC, 26 Nobel Laureates and wider civil society have consistently called for the urgent negotiation of new international law to address autonomy in weapons systems and ensure meaningful human control over the use of force.
“The dehumanisation and killing of people by AI technologies in military contexts is unacceptable and will have terrible consequences in policing, border control and wider society,” Stop Killer Robots said in a press statement commenting on the UN resolution.
Clare Conboy, of Stop Killer Robots, added: “This resolution is a significant step towards the negotiation of new international law. The political momentum is clear and we urge states to take the next step now towards preventing the delegation of life and death decisions to machines.”
“A false distinction has been encouraged between the regulation of civil and military uses of AI and automated technologies. With rapidly advancing technological change, states need to safeguard humanity. It’s time for a new treaty ensuring meaningful human control over the use of force and this vote is a clear step in the right direction.”
Earlier this year in the UK the House of Lords Artificial Intelligence in Weapons Systems Committee launched a call for evidence as part of its inquiry into the use of autonomous weapons.
The war in Ukraine has seen tech play a vital role on how AI could play a significant role in future conflicts with AI systems predicting enemy movements and analysing large amounts of data to identify potential threats.
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