Public opposition to killer robots grows while states continue to drag their feet

More than three in five people across 26 countries oppose the development of autonomous weapons that could select and kill targets without human intervention, according to a new poll commissioned by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

Governments should be protecting people from the myriad risks that killer robots pose, not rushing into a new arms race which could have terrifying consequences
Rasha Abdul Rahim, Acting Deputy Director of Amnesty Tech

The poll, which was carried out by Ipsos MORI, found that:

  • In the 26 countries surveyed in 2018, more than three in every five people (61%) oppose the development of lethal autonomous weapons systems.
  • Two-thirds (66%) of those opposed to lethal autonomous weapons systems were most concerned that they would “cross a moral line because machines should not be allowed to kill.”
  • More than half (54%) of those who opposed said they were concerned that the weapons would be “unaccountable.”
  • A near-identical survey in 23 countries in January 2017 found that 56% of respondents were opposed to lethal autonomous weapons systems – opposition growing.
  • More than half of respondents opposed killer robots in China (60%); Russia (59%); the UK (54%); France (59%), and the USA (52%).

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is a growing global coalition of NGOs, including Amnesty International, that is working to ban fully autonomous weapons.

We still have time to halt the development and proliferation of fully autonomous weapons, but we won’t have that luxury for long.
Rasha Abdul Rahim

“This poll shows that the states blocking a ban on killer robots are totally out of step with public opinion. Governments should be protecting people from the myriad risks that killer robots pose, not rushing into a new arms race which could have terrifying consequences,” said Rasha Abdul Rahim, Acting Deputy Director of Amnesty Tech.

“We still have time to halt the development and proliferation of fully autonomous weapons, but we won’t have that luxury for long. Governments should take note of this poll and urgently begin negotiating a new treaty to prohibit these horrifying weapons. Only this can help ensure respect for international law and address ethical and security concerns regarding delegating the power to make life-and-death decisions to machines.”

Amnesty International is calling for a total ban on the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapon systems, in light of the serious human rights, humanitarian and security risks they pose. The use of autonomous weapons without meaningful and effective human control would undermine the right to life and other human rights and create an accountability gap if, once deployed, they are able to make their own determinations about the use of lethal force. 

However, a minority of states at the 2018 November annual meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, used consensus rules to thwart meaningful diplomatic progress. Russia, Israel, South Korea, and the USA indicated at the meeting that they would not support negotiations for a new treaty, but the poll results show that more than half of respondents in Russia (59%) and the USA (52%) oppose autonomous weapons.

More than half of respondents opposed autonomous weapons in China (60%), South Korea (74%) and the UK (54%), which are among the leading states developing this technology.

The survey by Ipsos MORI was commissioned by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and conducted in December 2018. The sample size was 500 - 1,000 people in each country.

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