De­fence chiefs pledge that killer ro­bots will al­ways stay un­der hu­man con­trol

The Observer - - NEWS - By Michael Sav­age Pol­icy Edi­tor

Bri­tain’s mil­i­tary will com­mit to en­sur­ing that drones and other re­mote weaponry are al­ways un­der hu­man con­trol, as part of a new doc­trine de­signed to calm con­cerns about killer ro­bots.

The move by the Min­istry of De­fence comes af­ter more than 100 lead­ing robotics ex­perts wrote to the United Na­tions urg­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion to step in to halt the de­vel­op­ment of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence in weaponry.

The an­nounce­ment is also timed in re­sponse to demon­stra­tions at this week’s biennial De­fence and Se­cu­rity Equip­ment In­ter­na­tional (DSEI) fair, one of the world’s big­gest arms ex­hi­bi­tions. More than 34,000 visi­tors are ex­pected to at­tend the event in London.

The new doc­trine will make clear that the UK op­poses the de­vel­op­ment of au­tonomous weapons sys­tems that could op­er­ate with­out trained con­trollers and tra­di­tional chains of com­mand.

The doc­trine will see the MOD pledge: “UK pol­icy is that the op­er­a­tion of weapons will al­ways be un­der con­trol as an ab­so­lute guar­an­tee of hu­man over­sight, au­thor­ity and ac­count­abil­ity. The UK does not pos­sess fully au­tonomous weapon sys­tems and has no in­ten­tion of de­vel­op­ing them.”

The UK has a small squadron of Reaper drones – cur­rently be­ing ex­panded – which can be armed, but which are al­ways re­motely pi­loted.

Mark Lan­caster, the min­is­ter for the armed forces, said: “It’s ab­so­lutely right that our weapons are op­er­ated by real peo­ple ca­pa­ble of mak­ing in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant de­ci­sions, and we are guar­an­tee­ing that vi­tal over­sight.

“We’re cer­tainly not ig­nor­ing robotics; our ded­i­cated sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy bud­get and our £800m in­no­va­tion fund [are] keep­ing our armed forces at the cut­ting edge, but our weapons will al­ways be un­der hu­man con­trol.”

The Min­istry of De­fence is look­ing at sys­tems to re­sup­ply front­line troops us­ing re­motely con­trolled ve­hi­cles or air­craft. The Royal Navy also sup­ported the world’s first large-scale demon­stra­tion of ma­rine ro­botic sys­tems last year.

Over the sum­mer a let­ter backed by more than 100 ex­perts and co-signed by US bil­lion­aire Elon Musk warned against “a third revolution in war­fare”.

“Once de­vel­oped, they will per­mit armed con­flict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than hu­mans can com­pre­hend,” the let­ter stated.

The UK doc­trine on drone op­er­a­tion will be in line with Nato, and comes af­ter a warn­ing from more than 100 AI ex­perts

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