Even if world governments consider a ban on autonomous weapons that can kill without human input, their use by terrorist actors will still remain as a threat to humanity, an internationally known expert told the Emirates News Agency, WAM, in an exclusive interview.
“I think a number of governments are considering this [a ban on autonomous weapons]. My point of view is a robot should never take a decision to kill its own without humans in the loop,” Dr. James Rogers, a visiting fellow at Yale University’s Department of International Security Studies, said during the interview at Foreign Correspondents’ Club of the UAE in Abu Dhabi.
He explained that a robot with a pre-set algorithm could kill a person and then ask its control room to check whether it had killed the right person. “That should never be the situation in a war. A human should always be in the loop,” said Rogers who is a world-leading expert on drone and remote warfare. In addition to writing extensively on the topic, he has provided advice on the impact of this threat to multi-lateral institutions and governments, including NATO and the UK’s Ministry of Defence.
Currently, the technology on automated ability to preset the drones to final destination is not only available to states but to non-state actors such as terrorist and insurgent elements also, the expert said.
Now anyone can download software and high-end applications, and buy a number of drones from an online retailer. They can then programme those drones through a computer, then select all of them, and allow them to take off through a click of a button and click another button to send them to the final destination, he explained.
The drones would go a longer pre-set flight path and reach that final destination. “That autonomous capability is most definitely achieved by all of us,” Rogers said.
The public in many countries are disquieted about the use of such autonomous drone systems, according to studies conducted by some experts. “As long as public aversion remains it [public opinion] may push for some changes [like ban on autonomous weapons, including drones]. That is how government should work…they should listen to people ” the expert said.
“As wars will be increasingly autonomous, I hope we must keep human beings in the loop for entire decision making,” Rogers suggested.
Asked whether future wars will be fought by autonomous systems without human beings, he said, “I think perhaps nobody wants that. Even military forces in the West want to have some sort of job.”
He suggests there should be increased regulations on high-end [weapon-related] commercial goods. “If we want to harness good from drones, we have to do it in a measured and concerted way. We need to have more regulations on its commercial aspects. Of course we need more and more investments on counter-drone capabilities as well,” Rogers said.
However, international regulations can control state actors only, not the non-state actors. “If I am honest I think that in a globalised world, these systems will always be available to anyone. But increased checks at borders and online sales can improve the security around these high-tech systems. It is a widespread and important threat,” the expert explained.
Rogers was in Abu Dhabi to deliver a lecture and Q&A session on ‘Remote Warfare and Non-State Actors in the Middle East’ at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of the UAE (FCC UAE).