LONDON-Killer robots must be banned to prevent unlawful killings, injuries and other violations of human rights ‘before it’s too late’, according to Amnesty International.

The human rights non-profit is calling upon the United Nations to place tough new restraints on the development of autonomous weapon systems ahead of key negotiations in Geneva this week.

The development of automated weapons, which can pick out and eliminate targets without input from a human being, has proliferated over the past decade. Countries including the UK, France, Israel and the US are known to be developing the technology for use in military and police operations.

Amnesty International argues humans should remain ‘at the core of critical decisions’ on the use of deadly force, such as the selection and engagement of targets.

The call comes ahead of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, which is meeting in Geneva between 27 and 31 August.

During the meeting, states will discuss options for addressing the human rights, humanitarian, ethical and security challenges posed by killer robots.

‘Killer robots are no longer the stuff of science fiction,’ said Rasha Abdul Rahim, an advisor on artificial intelligence and human rights at Amnesty International.

‘From artificially intelligent drones to automated guns that can choose their own targets, technological advances in weaponry are far outpacing international law.’

‘A ban on fully autonomous weapons systems could prevent some truly dystopian scenarios, like a new high-tech arms race between world superpowers which would cause autonomous weapons to proliferate widely.

‘We are calling on states present in Geneva this week to act with the urgency this issue demands, and come up with an ambitious mandate to address the numerous risks posed by autonomous weapons.’

At the last CCW meeting in April, the majority of the which 120 member states stressed the importance of retaining human control over weapons systems.

Twenty-six of these called for a total ban, including Austria, Brazil and Egypt.

China also called for a new CCW protocol to prohibit the use of fully autonomous weapon systems.

But a number of key states oppose creating legally binding BANS, including governments who are already known to be developing autonomous weapons systems, such as France, Israel, Russia, South Korea, the USA and UK.

It is not clear what form autonomous weapons of the future could take, but experts warn they could eventually replace human decision-makers on the battlefield.

Amnesty International is calling for the creation of legally-binding standards to ensure that humans remain at the core of ‘critical functions’ of weapons systems.

The non-profit argues humans must be involved in the identification, selection and engagement of targets to comply with International Law.

The call forms part of Amnesty International’s Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which is seeking a total ban on the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapon systems.

‘So far, the likelihood that autonomous weapons will be used in police operations, with all the risks that entails, has been largely overlooked,’ said Mr Rahim.

‘But drones capable of shooting electric-shock darts, tear gas and pepperball already exist.

‘The use of fully autonomous weapons in law enforcement without effective and meaningful human control would be incompatible with international human rights law, and could lead to unlawful killings, injuries and other violations of human rights.

‘We are calling on states to take concrete steps to halt the spread of these dangerous weapons, both on the streets and on the battlefield, before it’s too late.’