• Documentary

    Autonomous Robots: Banning Killing Machines

    Watch our Documentary!

    final video – robots from Amy Kohn on Vimeo.



    This documentary video directed and produced by Amy Kohn will introduce the reasons why we must consider a ban on autonomous robots.

    These include:


    For now we are the main nation developing autonomous robots but once the development of robots becomes cheaper and easier there is no reason to think that rogue states and even terrorist organizations will not get their hands on these autonomous machines.  Matthew Bolton points out that we may think of ourselves as the good country, but that will not stop other nations, who may be against the principles of democracy, from adopting these weapons.


    One of the principals of just war is the rule of distinction.  You cannot kill civilians and therefore must be able to differentiate between a civilian and a soldier. A weapons system must be able to discriminate between them as well. Present robotic technology does not make this possible.  The difference between a civilian and a soldier in today’s war fare is very complex.  Activist Thomas Nash points out that it is not easy in today’s war environment to identify civilians – people no longer line up in red and blue uniforms. Roboticist Noel Sharkey argues that he doesn’t believe technology will ever make this very difficult determination possible for a robot. A robot might see a child with a weapon and think it is a small person or a man on his knees.


    A second principal of Just War is proportionality.  The harm caused to civilians and their property must be proportional and not excessive in relation to the military objective and benefit of an attack.  We learned from landmines, another autonomous weapons system, that autonomous killing machine’s record is that they kill thousands of civilians and cause significant harm to the surrounding communities. Political scientist and activist Matthew Bolton argues that autonomous robots are little more than a moving mine. We know the harm of killing machines already and should pay careful attention to that lesson as we move forward.


    Peter Asaro explains that even if the technology reaches a point where a robot could make the above mentioned distinctions, there is still an issue with robotic weapons and accountability. Autonomous robots could make kill decisions but then if they committed a war crime, who would be held responsible? One could say it was the programmer or the commander who sent the robot in, but either can claim that the robot went “berserk” and deny responsibility. Just war needs a human being to be held accountable. As Matthew Bolton says, “You can’t court marshall R2D2.”


    Our Experts

    All the experts that were interviewed for this documentary call for a ban on autonomous weapons now before the genie is let out of the bottle and it becomes too late.

    The video features the following experts:

    Peter Asaro is a philosopher of science, technology and media. His work examines the interfaces between social relations, human minds and bodies, artificial intelligence and robotics, and digital media.His current research focuses on the social, cultural, political, legal and ethical dimensions of military robotics and UAV drones, from a perspective that combines media theory with science and technology studies. He has written widely-cited papers on lethal robotics from the perspective of just war theory and human rights. Dr. Asaro’s research also examines agency and autonomy, liability and punishment, and privacy and surveillance as it applies to consumer robots, industrial automation, smart buildings, and autonomous vehicles.




    Matthew Bolton, Phd is on the faculty of Pace University in the Political Science Department. He comes from the international humanitarian and development sector, where he has worked with several non-profits and UNICEF in over a dozen countries, including Bosnia, Iraq, Kenya and Uganda. Most recently he was the emergency coordinator and acting chief of mission for Outreach International’s educational program in Haiti, where he oversaw the response to the 2010 earthquake and the expansion of the program’s annual funding tenfold. Dr. Bolton’s PhD thesis, from the London School of Economics and Political Science, explored the politics behind the allocation and implementation of foreign aid for the clearance of landmines by the U.S. and Norway for demining in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Sudan.  Dr. Bolton has written two books: Foreign Aid and Landmine Clearance: Governance, Politics and Security in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Sudan (published by I.B. Tauris) and Apostle of the Poor: The Life and Work of Missionary and Humanitarian Charles D. Neff (published by John Whitmer Books.



    Thomas Nash is Director of Article 36 and joint Coordinator of the International Network on Explosive Weapons. As Coordinator of the Cluster Munition Coalition from 2004 to 2011, Nash led the global campaign resulting in the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Nash previously worked for the New Zealand and Canadian Foreign Ministries in Geneva and Ottawa.





    Noel  Sharkey  Phd, DSc, FIET, FBCS CITP FRIN FRSA is a professor of AI and Robotics and the Professor of Public Engagement at the University of Sheffield and was an EPSRC Senior Media Fellow (2004-2010). He has held a number of research and teaching positions in the UK (Essex, Exeter, Sheffield) and the USA (Yale,and Stanford). Noel has moved freely across academic disciplines, lecturing in departments of engineering, philosophy, psychology, cognitive science, linguistics, artificial intelligence and computer science. He holds a Doctorate in Experimental Psychology and a Doctorate of Science. He is a chartered electrical engineer, a chartered information technology professional and is a member of both the Experimental Psychology Society and Equity (the actor’s union). He has published well over a hundred academic articles and books as well writing for national newspaper and magazines. In addition to editing several journal special issues on modern robotics, Noel has been Editor-in-Chief of the journal Connection Science for 22 years and an editor of both Robotics and Autonomous Systems and Artificial Intelligence Review. His research interests include Biologically Inspired Robotics, Cognitive Processes, History of Automata/Robots (from ancient to modern), Human-Robot interaction and communication, representations of language and emotion and neural computing/machine learning. But his current research passion is for the ethics of robot applications.