Those opposed to the creation of robots that could choose and launch attacks on human targets without human involvement charge that the US and Russia have thwarted international efforts to forbid the creation of these weapons.

Japan has been urged to show “bold leadership” and join the growing number of nations and international organisations calling for a ban on the development of weapons systems that would be able to choose and attack targets without any human intervention. This is according to the head of the coalition of non-governmental organisations known as the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

The worldwide organiser for the killer robots campaign and Human Rights Watch’s director of arms advocacy, Mary Wareham, was in Tokyo on Saturday to attend a symposium at the University of Tokyo on the subject. To discuss her situation, she also met with the defence and foreign ministers of Japan, Taro Kono and Takeshi Iwaya.

Wareham called the development and use of artificial intelligence-guided weaponry by a number of countries “a fundamental threat to civilization.” She claimed that developing robots that can attack without any human control amounted to “outsourcing killing.”

She stated during a news conference in Tokyo that “international law was written for humans, not machines,” and that it urgently needs to be improved to address the grave threats posed by killer robots.

“Japan should cooperate with like-minded states to start negotiations on a new convention to ban killer robots,” she continued. “Japan should transform its remarks on the need to keep meaningful human control over the use of force into action.”

Japan needs to take initiative

Japan should take the initiative and actively participate in the negotiations of a treaty, said Wareham, rather than taking a back seat in the international discussions on killer robots.

Since her discussion with the ministers, the Japanese government has not made any statements regarding the matter.

Since its inception in 2013, the movement to combat unfettered robotics on the battlefield has gained the support of 57 countries and 113 non-governmental organisations. Pakistan was the first nation to back the campaign, and the government’s stance there was partly influenced by the regular deployment of US drones against terrorists in the area near the Afghan border.

However, Wareham claims that a legally binding agreement to outlaw killer robots has not yet been reached, which would be analogous to the 1999 accord that outlawed landmines and the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which became effective in August 2010.

A formal agreement was not reached at the ninth Convention on Chemical Weapons meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems, which was held in Geneva in August and was attended by 92 governments.

Wareham attributed the disagreement to the US and Russia. She claimed that the two nations continually refused to accept any mention of the requirement for “human control” over the use of force in the meeting’s final report.

The Russian envoy also argued that until autonomous weapon systems are actually produced, it is “premature” to consider their possible risks.

Several other nations, including as Israel, South Korea, and the United Kingdom, have also declined to ratify a legally binding pact.

Wareham contends that it will be considerably more challenging to stop the systems from being utilised if the international community waits until the weapons have already been built before passing legislation.

“No plans to purchase”

Japan has also not backed the calls for a new treaty, despite the fact that it has engaged in discussions on killer robots and repeatedly claimed that it has “no ambitions” to acquire or use the technology.

Japan “is in a really dangerous neighbourhood and won’t want to rule out any choices that would increase their combat possibilities,” said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University’s Tokyo campus.

There are several reasons why autonomous combat robots might play a significant role in Japan’s defences, the expert added, despite Tokyo’s support for a ban on their development.

“You reduce death rates and limit public repercussions if you can replace soldiers with robots,” he argued. The demographic time-bomb in Japan and any effects on its security capabilities would be mitigated by robots, too.

Kingston told DW that Japan should “employ technology to offset its demographic collapse” because the country’s Self-Defense Forces are having trouble filling posts in their land, sea, and air forces due to a declining population and an ageing population.

Discovering our relationship with robots: “Hi, A.I.”

Exporting robots

The export potential of robot technology, a field in which Japan is acknowledged as a global leader, would be another consideration for Japan. According to Kingston, the industry might also develop into a sizable source of income.

However, Wareham maintains that rather than dwindling, “killer robots have created numerous basic moral, ethical, legal, operational, technical, proliferation, international stability, and other problems.”

Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, Nobel Peace Prize winners, and increasingly professionals in artificial intelligence and robotics who are aware of the full ramifications of their work are among those who favour a ban.

The effort is gaining traction, and she stated that a global agreement was still coming.

It simply depends on who will negotiate it, where it will be established, and how powerful it will be.