The Ban on Killer Robots, and Why Jim Hendler Signed It


Brian Nearing of Times Union reports, "As head of computer science at RPI, James Handler knows more about robotics and artificial intelligence than most people. So when he says the time is now for a ban on so-called 'killer robots' — machines with weaponry and decision-making power to kill, without human oversight -— it's reasonable to listen. Last week, Hendler was among nearly 300 scientists from three dozen countries who signed a statement to the United Nations calling for governments to stop such robotic technology, which has long been the stuff of dystopian science fiction and films as far back as the 1927 silent German classic 'Metropolis'."

Nearing continues, "While the public might envision something along the lines of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 'Terminator' movies, the military term for such weapons is 'lethally autonomous robots,' or LARS, meaning the machine's artificial intelligence would select and destroy targets, human or otherwise. The lethal machine could be a flying drone, tank, vessel, vehicle or fixed weapon that could sense its surroundings and fire based on its findings. 'The first generation of such machines are already being tested by some countries,' said Hendler, a 56-year-old expert in robotics and artificial intelligence and former scientific adviser to the Air Force who joined RPI in 2006. In Troy, his research involves something called the semantic web, an extension of the World Wide Web to enable computers to interpret the meaning and context of words and numbers."

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Image: Courtesy Flickr/ Elon University