Bioethics Blogs

Blogging the UN Killer Robots Meeting

Over the next week, I’ll be blogging from Geneva, where 118 nations (if they all show up) will be meeting to discuss “Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems” (LAWS) and, you know, the fate of humanity. You may have seen headlines about the United Nations trying to outlaw killer robots, which is a bit inaccurate. First of all, the UN can’t actually outlaw anything; Security Council resolutions are supposed to have the force of law on matters of international peace and security, but apart from attempts to shackle miscreants like Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, the Security Council has never tried to impose arms control on the major military powers, most of which can just veto its resolutions anyway. And anyway, the first point is irrelevant; this meeting is taking place under a subsidiary of the UN, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), whose full name is actually longer and even more boring-sounding than that but has something to do with “excessively injurious” or “indiscriminate” weapons. As an aside, I note that “excessively injurious” weapons are the ones that don’t kill you, not the ones that do. But delegating the issue of autonomous weapons to the CCW is more related to the notion that stupid killer robots, like land mines, would be unable to distinguish civilians from combatants, hence “indiscriminate.”

The author (on the right)

This will actually be the second CCW meeting on LAWS, which is a nice acronym but doesn’t have any official definition. The first meeting, held in 2014, was attended by at least 80 nations, which is very good for a treaty organization whose typical meeting was described by a colleague of mine as “start late, nobody wants to say anything, routine business announcements, and adjourn early.” The 2014 LAWS meeting was nothing like that.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.