The European Union took a stance against “killer robots” on Wednesday when the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for an international ban on the development, production and use of weapons that kill without a human deciding to fire.
Autonomous weapons are machines programmed to select and attack targets using artificial intelligence, without human control. Opponents fear they could become dangerous in a cyber-attack or as a result of a mistake in their programming.
“I know that this might look like a debate about some distant future or about science fiction. It’s not,” Federica Mogherini, the EU chief of foreign and security policy, said during a debate in parliament on Tuesday.
The resolution passed on Wednesday is an effort to preempt their development and use.
Countries including the United States, China, Israel, South Korea, Russia and the United Kingdom are moving closer to autonomous weapons systems, with precursors such as armed drones, according to campaign group Human Rights Watch.
Russian news agency TASS reported in 2017 that Russian arms maker Kalashnikov had developed an automated weapon that was able to “identify targets and make decisions.”
Most members at the debate on Tuesday spoke in favour of the resolution that the use of such weapons was an issue of human rights and humanitarian law. Some were concerned that legislation could limit scientific progress on artificial intelligence for everyday use.
Another concern stressed by the parliamentarians was the security risk the bloc would face if it banned the use of the weapons while others did not.
“Autonomous weapons systems must be banned internationally,” said Bodil Valero, security policy spokesperson for the EU Parliament’s Greens/EFA Group. “The power to decide over life and death should never be taken out of human hands and given to machines.”
The resolution passed on Wednesday calls for the EU to establish a common position before international negotiations scheduled at the United Nations in November.
At the UN level, 26 governments are demanding artificial intelligence weapons be banned, according to a statement from the EU Parliament’s Greens/EFA group.
“This resolution adds important momentum towards further steps to prevent their development and use,” said peace organisation PAX in a statement after the vote on Wednesday.