In the Ter­mi­nator movies, fully autonomous robots wage war against humanity. Although cyborg assas­sins won’t be arriving from the future any­time soon, offen­sive “Terminator-​​style” autonomous robots that are pro­grammed to kill could soon escape Hol­ly­wood sci­ence fic­tion and become reality. This actual rise of the machines raises impor­tant strategic, moral, and legal ques­tions about whether the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity should empower robots to kill.

This debate goes well beyond drones, as they are yesterday’s news. Existing armed unmanned aerial vehi­cles are pre­cur­sors to lethal autonomous robotics — that is, killer robots — that could choose tar­gets without fur­ther human inter­ven­tion once they are pro­grammed and acti­vated. The Pen­tagon is already plan­ning for them, envi­sioning a gradual reduc­tion by 2036 of the degree of human con­trol over such unmanned weapons and sys­tems, until humans are com­pletely out of the loop. But just because the Depart­ment of Defense wants it doesn’t mean the United States should allow it. Instead, Wash­ington should take the lead in drafting a new, inter­na­tional agree­ment to ban killer robots and reg­u­late other kinds of autonomous sys­tems. There is no better time to push for such a pro­hi­bi­tion than next week, on May 13, when 117 coun­tries will meet in Geneva for the first mul­ti­lat­eral UN talks on killer robots at the United Nations. There, the United States should stand up and tell the world that people must remain in com­plete con­trol when it comes to war and peace.

Read the article at Foreign Affairs →