Lethal autonomous weapons systems, or killer robots, would be able to select and attack targets without human control, delegating decisions over whom to attack and kill, to a machine. Although fully autonomous weapons are not yet in operation, a number of countries are developing capacities for combat machines that have greater autonomy – including the UK, China, Israel, Russia and the United States.

States are currently considering ‘Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems’ under the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). A major subject of discussion has been the principle of maintaining ‘meaningful human control’ over weapons systems, and the need to define the limits of acceptable control. The UK has stated that the “operation of weapons systems will always remain under human control” but a full elaboration of what this means has not been given. The UK has also expressed the opinion that no new international law is needed to prevent the development of fully autonomous weapons systems.

Action by states is needed now to develop an understanding over what is unacceptable when it comes to the use of autonomous weapons systems, and to prohibit these activities and development through an international treaty. States needs to define what level of human control is adequate when releasing weapons.

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