A time to act: Project Ploughshares calls for a future without killer robotics

Monday, October 22, 2018

Marijan at killer robots during the United Nations General Assembly First Committee meetings in New YorkThinking and working politically is a key ingredient for participants at the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement (CPA)—we believe this a fundamental process that ensures peacebuilding work is targeting the root of an issue rather than the symptoms. This has been a focus for our Epp Peace Incubator, but has also been a thread running through other programs of the CPA.

Project Ploughshares, one of the CPA’s Core Collaborators, has worked to advance policies and actions to prevent war and armed violence for over 40 years. In 2015, Project Ploughshares launched their call for attention to the growing concern of lethal autonomous weapons systems, also referred to as “killer robots.” Branka Marijan, Project Officer at Project Ploughshares, has been working to humanize this issue in a variety of ways.

Marijan has been engaged in national and international discussions on killer robots and the future of warfare. Marijan is hoping to see a legally binding instrument banning systems that function without meaningful human control: “The vast majority of countries have called for some sort of human control over weapon systems. We don’t want to be in a situation where it is algorithms or machines making decisions on human life.”

Project Ploughshares first engaged in conversations around killer robotics as a result of local initiatives. In 2013 Clearpath Robotics, a Kitchener-based robotics start-up, made headlines as the world’s first robotics company to pledge not to make killer robots. Ploughshares also saw international civil society organizations coming together as part of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Ploughshares joined the Campaign in early 2016. Nationally, experts in artificial intelligence and robotics started to speak out more on this issue and this energy is growing. Marijan states, “This kind of layered approach is absolutely necessary. This just won’t come from the top down.”

Continuing this local momentum, Project Ploughshares will be hosting a free event on November 14 from 6-8 pm at the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery in Uptown Waterloo. The event will feature remarks from Ryan Gariepy, Chief Technology Officer of Clearpath Robotics and Otto Motors, with a focus on reaching those in the tech sector and the wider community. Marijan highlighted that Waterloo Region is uniquely positioned for these conversations, bridging the worlds of technology and peacebuilding.

What is the future of killer robots? Marijan says, “We should worry that tech is outpacing law. In our modern world, this is a common concern. With autonomous weapons the risks are acute.” Without agreed upon regulation, an arms race and lowering threshold for conflict are key concerns. Project Ploughshares is working to ensure this doesn’t happen, and is calling for Canada to join 26 other countries who have banned lethal autonomous weapon systems.

Learn more about Project Ploughshare’s work on killer robots and attend the free local event!

For those working in the peace sector, effecting systems change is a crucial step in the process of achieving widespread impact. Our goal of catalyzing collaboration to advance peace means that new peace ventures in our Epp Peace Incubator can learn from established organizations, like Project Ploughshares, who play a leading role in global peace efforts. We invite you to reach out to learn more.