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No ‘killer robot’ plans for SANDF

The South African National Defence (SANDF)

The South African National Defence (SANDF)

Published Sep 3, 2018


Durban -The South African National Defence Force has said it would not use autonomous weapons in conducting its operations.

The SANDF commented after Amnesty International released a statement urging countries around the world to support the negotiation of a new law that would ban autonomous weapons systems otherwise known as “killer robots”.

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This week, experts are meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, at the Convention on Conventional Weapons Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems.

The meeting will look at human rights and ethical issues around autonomous weapons that could set the grounds for future arms races.

Brigadier-General Mafi Mgobhozi, SANDF spokesperson, said the problem with the use of such weapons was that they would not be able to read situations which happened on the battlefield.

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“Robots will never take the function of a soldier being a soldier,” he said.

Mgobhozi said human soldiers would be able to see humans and their nuances, and were capable of detecting when people were surrendering, which was not guaranteed with robots.

Another key factor, he said, was that soldiers would have ubuntu when dealing with people, which ­robots would not have.

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The SANDF is involved in numerous peace-keeping operations on the continent.

Science fiction

Rasha Abdul Rahim, a re-searcher on artificial intelligence and human rights at Amnesty International, said killer robots were no longer the stuff of science fiction.

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“From AI drones to automated guns that can choose their own targets, technological advances in weaponry are far outpacing international law.

“We are sliding towards a future where humans could be erased from decision-making around use of force,” she said.

Rahim said it was not too late to change course and that a ban on fully autonomous weapons could prevent a future arms race.

“So far, the likelihood that autonomous weapons will be used in police operations, with all the risks that entails, has been largely overlooked. But drones capable of shooting electric-shock darts, tear gas and pepperballs already exist.

“The use of fully autonomous weapons in law enforcement without effective and meaningful human control would be incompatible with international human rights law, and could lead to unlawful killings, injuries and other violations of human rights,” she said.

Last year, a UN panel of government experts concluded that international humanitarian law still applied to autonomous weapons, and called for more discussion on the matter.

Amnesty International pointed out that countries like France, Russia and the UK were opposed to creating legally binding prohibitions.

On the local front, Coral Vinsen from Amnesty International in Durban said the use of these robots could cause many problems in South Africa.

She said they could be exploited by criminals or even politicians who wanted to get rid of rivals.

With protests a daily occurrence in South Africa, the use of robots would be dangerous as situations constantly change.

Dr Johan Burger, a policing expert, said it was unlikely that they would replace police officers in places like protests.

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