Killer robots may wage ‘mechanical slaughter,’ U.N. warns

A factory full of terminators in the new film "Terminator Salvation."

(Credit: Image copyright 2009 Warner Bros. Courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic)

Be afraid. Be very afraid of these three letters: LAR.

Lethal autonomous robots is what Christof Heyns, United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, wants you to think about. He wants a global ban on the development of machines that can target people and kill them without supervision.

“The possible introduction of LARs raises far-reaching concerns about the protection of life during war and peace,” Heyns said Thursday during the presentation of his latest report to the U.N. Human Rights Council. “If this is done, machines and not humans will take the decision on who is alive or dies.”

Heyns, a professor of human-rights law at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, wants the council to consider adopting a moratorium on LARs until the international community reaches consensus on the issue. He called for “serious and meaningful international engagement on this issue before we proceed to a world where machines are given the power to kill humans.”

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