UN grapples with possibility of future 'killer robots' without human control

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GENEVA (AP) — Diplomats urged the adoption of new international laws Tuesday that could govern the use of "killer robots" if the technology becomes reality someday.

At the first United Nations meeting devoted to the subject, representatives began trying to define the limits and responsibilities of so-called lethal autonomous weapons systems that could go beyond human-directed drones.

The tone of the four-day gathering was set by Michael Moeller, acting head of the U.N.'s European headquarters in Geneva, who urged the delegates to take "bold action" by adopting pre-emptive new laws to ensure there is always a person directing the weapons.

"All too often international law only responds to atrocities and suffering once it has happened," said Moeller, a Danish diplomat. "You have the opportunity to take pre-emptive action and ensure that the ultimate decision to end life remains firmly under human control."

Delegates from many of the nations said existing laws won't cover future weapons that could decide on targets without human intervention.

"It is indispensable to maintain control of the decision to kill another person," German Ambassador Michael Biontino told the meeting.

Brazil's Ambassador Pedro Motto Pinto Coelho said the automation of the battlefield seems inevitable, but it isn't a new phenomenon, and "the fascination produced by technology shall not prevent us from raising relevant questions about the convenience and consequences of our future choices."

U.S. diplomat and legal adviser Stephen Townley cautioned the meeting against trying to "pre-judge" the uses of emerging technologies.

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