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HOME  > Past issues  > 2019 April 24 - May 7  > Japan should move toward international ban on AI weapons
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2019 April 24 - May 7 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Japan should move toward international ban on AI weapons

April 30, 2019
Akahata editorial (excerpts)

With research and development of artificial intelligence (AI)-controlled lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) progressing, it is becoming more feasible for such a system to be used in the near future. The stakes are high. In the UN, many nations are calling for creating a legally binding treaty banning LAWS. However, in March, Japanese Foreign Minister Kono Taro said that the use of AI-equipped arms “could be effective and efficient” for the national security of a country such as Japan which is faced with a declining population, while expressing opposition to the development of unmanned military weapons.

Autonomous weapons select and engage targets under AI control with no human intervention. So, humans will not have to engage in actual combat. It is said that advances in AI weapons will totally change the course of future wars and will mark the “third revolution in warfare” after gunpowder and nuclear weapons.

According to international NGO data, at least 12 countries, including the U.S., Britain, Russia, and China, are active in developing AI-powered LAWS. As the reason for this, they argue that compared with humans, this system can select and attack targets in a more accurate, rapid, and unemotional manner. They also claim that the use of this system can reduce military casualties because there is no need to deploy human soldiers to battlegrounds.

However, the use of LAWS has serious problems in light of ethics and international humanitarian law. One problem is, under a situation where clear guidelines have yet to be established, how to determine the locus of responsibility for damages caused by AI-controlled weapons such as civilian deaths, destruction of hospitals, schools, and other public facilities, and international law violations. In addition, there is growing criticism against the delegation of life-or-death decision-making to AI applications which could produce unintended harm and destruction. Regarding the argument that the weaponization of AI will minimize human casualties, anti-LAWS forces point out that such an argument will contribute to lowering the threshold to initiate war and thus will lead to yet another arms race.

In the UN, in 2014, discussions began under the auspices of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). In a UN conference in March this year, there was widespread demand for the start of negotiations and the establishment of an international treaty banning the development and use of weaponized AI systems.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his message to the conference stressed that LAWS should be prohibited by international law. About 30 UN member states, including African nations, central and south American nations, and Non-Aligned Movement member nations, demanded a legally binding prohibition of AI weapons. It is the U.S., Russia and other AI arms-developing countries that ignore this demand by claiming that the prohibition demand is premature as these weapons do not yet exist. However, NGO representatives who participated in the conference said that among the 90 nations attending the conference, the majority were in favor of the strict regulation or prohibition of LAWS.

The European Parliament in September 2018 adopted a resolution opposing AI-controlled autonomous weapon systems and demanded an international framework that bans the development and production of such systems. In an opinion survey conducted by a private company in 26 nations at the end of 2018, 61% of the respondents expressed opposition to LAWS. The Japanese government’s attitude recognizing LAWS as “effective and efficient” is being called into question.
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