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A developer demonstrates an autonomous tank at the Eurosatory 2018 Show, on June 10, 2018 in Villepinte, France. (Photo: Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images)

Call for Global Ban as Poll Shows Overwhelming Public Opposition to 'Horrifying' Killer Robots

Weapons that require no input from humans in selecting and killing targets undermine "the right to life and other human rights," critics say

Julia Conley

World leaders have shown little leadership in moving to ban autonomous weapons that would require no human involvement when selecting and killing targets, but a new survey shows that the global population overwhelmingly opposes the development of such "killer robots."

Commissioned by the Campaign to Ban Killer Robots, a new poll released Tuesday by Ipsos MORI asked between 500 and 1,000 people in each of the 26 countries it surveyed whether they approved of autonomous weapons, and found that three in five respondents were vehemently against the proposal.

"This poll shows that the states blocking a ban on killer robots are totally out of step with public opinion. Governments should be protecting people from the myriad risks that killer robots pose." —Rasha Abdul Rahim, Amnesty Tech

The survey showed that public opposition has grown considerably since January 2017, when just 56 percent of respondents to a similar poll opposed the development of killer robots.

In the new poll, people in countries around the world objected to autonomous killing machines due to concerns that they would be "unaccountable" for their actions, while two-thirds of respondents also said they opposed the development of weapons which they believe would "cross a moral line."

But as noted by Amnesty International, which has joined with the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots to push for an international ban on autonomous weapons, world leaders are not listening.

"This poll shows that the states blocking a ban on killer robots are totally out of step with public opinion. Governments should be protecting people from the myriad risks that killer robots pose," said Rasha Abdul Rahim, acting deputy director of Amnesty Tech.

Instead, Abdul Rahim added, "governments should take note of this poll and urgently begin negotiating a new treaty to prohibit these horrifying weapons."

Twenty-eight countries, including Costa Rica, Palestine, and Pakistan, support a ban on killer robots; Brazil, Chile, and Austria have formally proposed a legally-binding agreement to prohibit their use. The document would require "meaningful human control over critical functions in lethal autonomous weapon systems." 

But such agreements have been thwarted by global powers including the U.S., Russia, and South Korea, which all indicated at the annual Convention on Conventional Weapons last year that they would not support the proposed treaty.

In doing so, Amnesty International noted, world leaders are undermining "the right to life and other human rights," as well as defying the wishes of the populations they represent.

Fifty-two percent of Americans who were surveyed opposed the development of killer robots, along with 59 percent of Russians and nearly three-quarters of South Koreans.

"We still have time to halt the development and proliferation of fully autonomous weapons, but we won't have that luxury for long," Abdul Rahim said.

Only a full ban on such machines "can help ensure respect for international law and address ethical and security concerns regarding delegating the power to make life-and-death decisions to machines," she added.

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