The analysis that follows is predicated on three principal assumptions. The first is that the new robotic technologies are developing very rapidly and that the unmanned, lethal weapons carrying vehicles that are currently in operation will, before very long, be operating on an autonomous basis in relation to many and perhaps most of their key functions, including in particular the decision to actually deploy lethal force in a given situation. The second is that these technologies have very important ramifications for human rights in general and for the right to life in particular, and that they raise issues that need to be addressed urgently, before it is too late. The third is that, although a large part of the research and technological innovation currently being undertaken is driven by military and related concerns, there is no inherent reason why human rights and humanitarian law considerations cannot be proactively factored into the design and operationalisation of the new technologies. But this will not happen unless and until the human rights community presses the key public and private actors to make sure it does; and because the human rights dimensions cannot be addressed in isolation, the international community urgently needs to address the legal, political, ethical and moral implications of the development of lethal robotic technologies..
John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law, New York University School of Law. The author was UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions from 2004 until 2010 and this article draws on work originally done in that context. I am very grateful to Hina Shamsi and Sarah Knuckey for their assistance.
© 2011 Journal of Law, Information & Science and Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania.