Killer robots must be regulated, says German foreign minister | News | DW | 15.03.2019
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Killer robots must be regulated, says German foreign minister

Autonomous weapons systems, deadly viruses, cyberwarfare — many countries are developing such systems. But is a technological, not least political, control on them at all possible?

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Friday called for international cooperation on regulating modern autonomous weapons systems.

Speaking at the "2019. Capturing Technology. Rethinking Arms Control" weapons conference in Berlin, Maas warned of the uncontrollable risks of autonomous weapons systems, high-tech rockets, cyberattacks and biological weapons.

"Killer robots that make life-or-death decisions on the basis of anonymous data sets, and completely beyond human control, are already a shockingly real prospect today," Maas said. "Fundamentally, it's about whether we control the technology or it controls us."

The United Nations and the European Union have both called for a global ban on autonomous weapons, but so far few internationally-accepted rules exist for such systems.

"The multilateral political system appears paralyzed in the face of potential threats," Maas told around 450 gathered experts, politicians and diplomats. He called for progress at talks under the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) this year. The CCW will hold talks on autonomous weapons in Geneva later this month.

"We want to want to codify the principle of human control over all deadly weapons systems internationally, and thereby take a big step toward a global ban on fully autonomous weapons," Maas said.

Read more: 10 things to know about 'killer robots'

Watch video 03:57

Autonomous fighting machines

Global treaty

The German government is thus far torn on whether to impose new restrictions on exports of autonomous systems, with its tough stance on exports already being criticized by fellow EU member states.

Mary Wareham, coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, urged Germany to pursue a global treaty, rather than a non-binding declaration.

Read more: Boeing crash: Do machines make better decisions than people?

"Measures that fall short of a new ban treaty will be insufficient to deal with the multiple challenges raised by killer robots," she said in a statement.

Russia, Israel, South Korea, China and the United States are all developing autonomous weapons.

aw/rt (Reuters, dpa)

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