2 May 2019

MPs urged to take strong stance on killer robots

8:11 pm on 2 May 2019

MPs are being urged to take bold leadership and put their support behind calls to ban killer robots.

A mock killer robot during the launch of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots in London in April 2013.

A mock killer robot during the launch of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots in London in April 2013. Photo: AFP

The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee was briefed on fully autonomous weapons this morning.

Human Rights Watch's Mary Wareham said while artificial intelligence had great benefits, it also had a dark side and using it as a tool for killing crossed a dangerous line.

She said these weapons selected targets without sufficient human control, raising grave moral and accountability issues.

Ms Wareham wants New Zealand to be more ambitious and take the lead in negotiating a global treaty and push for new international law clearly prohibiting these weapons.

However Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials told MPs international laws already implicitly banned these weapons, and it is pushing for changes to make that explicit.

But they said getting a consensus on definitions around these weapons was difficult.

Ms Wareham said New Zealand was the only country with a dedicated Disarmament Minister, Winston Peter, and he should lead New Zealand's campaign.

When that was put to Mr Peters he asked the reporter why they were "being used as a conduit" as he had not yet been asked.

"If you're going to ask a major question like that I'm happy to give you a paper but not going to treat such a serious issue so flippantly with an off-the-cuff comment."

Minister of Defence Ron Mark

Defence Minister Ron Mark said it's a question challenging all western nations. Photo: RNZ/Rebekah Parsons-King

His New Zealand First colleague and Defence Minister, Ron Mark, gave a more considered response, saying he's personally uncomfortable about machines making life or decisions, a position he said was also held by the New Zealand government.

Mr Mark said these were questions for the public to debate.

"Whether a human being should make the decision or a machine, it's a question that's challenging all western nations.

"The question is what is the definition of an auto autonomous killing device and I understand there are some on sale here in New Zealand already used in the predator free space. And I guess that's a question for the wider public."

ACT leader David Seymour had some tongue in cheek suggestions for New Zealand's contributions.

"I think that if there was a country that was best qualified to lead a global campaign on killer robots, of course it's New Zealand, and no other country could possibly be called upon to provide that sort of leadership.

"And I'm sure that if we sent Jacinda Ardern over to have a special bilateral with Vladimir Putin, those killer robots would be quaking in their boots."

And he had some thoughts about the suitability of Winston Peters to spearhead a New Zealand campaign.

"I think the person to lead such a campaign would have to be computer literate with the greatest of respect to people over 70 years old, I don't think Winston Peters was the right person for this particular campaign.

"You know, first of all, he wouldn't know how to switch it on or off."

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