In Brief

UN Convention Weighs Fears About Killer Robots

Our terrifying nemeses in the coming war of man versus machine? Terminators on the rampage in "Terminator 2: Judgement Day." (Image credit: Tristar Pictures)

The idea of humans answering to robot overlords is a concept that has often been joked about, but with drones and other robotic technologies advancing at such a rapid pace, the notion that humans could need protection from killer robots may be no laughing matter.

As such, governments are gathering this week for a four-day session to discuss how to prevent "lethal autonomous robots," reported AFP. The debate is part of the U.N. Convention on Conventional Weapons, which is being held in Geneva, Switzerland.

"Killer robots would threaten the most fundamental of rights and principles in international law," Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization, told AFP. "We don't see how these inanimate machines could understand or respect the value of life, yet they would have the power to determine when to take it away."

Robotic weapons, such as armed drones, are already used around the world, but some military experts predict cutting-edge research could give rise to autonomous killer robots within 20 years, according to AFP.

"It's totally unconscionable that human beings think that it's OK to cede the power and life over other humans to machinery," said Jody Williams, a political activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner for her work to ban land mines, according to AFP. "If we don't inject a moral and ethical discussion into this, we won't control warfare."

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Denise Chow
Live Science Contributor

Denise Chow was the assistant managing editor at Live Science before moving to NBC News as a science reporter, where she focuses on general science and climate change. Before joining the Live Science team in 2013, she spent two years as a staff writer for, writing about rocket launches and covering NASA's final three space shuttle missions. A Canadian transplant, Denise has a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, and a master's degree in journalism from New York University.