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Blocking the path for killer robots

August 14, 2014

Clearpath Robotics Logo JPGOn 13. August 2014, Canadian Clearpath Robotics became the world’s first robotics company to take a clear stance against “killer robots”. Let’s hope they are just the first trailblazers, clearing a path for others to follow.

Clearpath Robotics is Canada’s biggest robotics company. They make both land- air- and seagoing robots, and produce models like the rugged robotic all-terrain vehicle named Grizzly, and the versatile Husky¹.

Clearpath produces robots for military use, and is involved in both Canadian and international military research and development. Therefore, it came as a welcome surprise when I learned that Clearpath Robotics – as the first robotics company – has signed on with the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

From the launch of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Photo: Sharron Ward for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots (CCANC).

From the launch of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Photo: Sharron Ward for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots (CCANC).

According to a press release, Clearpath will continue to work with military clients, but will not manufacture weaponized robots that remove humans from the loop. The company, the press release reads, has chosen to value ethics over potential future revenue.

“Clearpath Robotics believes that the development of killer robots is unwise, unethical, and should be banned on an international scale,” the company’s Co-Founder and CTO, Ryan Gariepy states in an open letter included in the press release.

The world is not ready

Gariepy admits that the issue of killer robots – or Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), as they are also called – is an is an incredibly complex one. Nevertheless, his stance on the subject is clear:

“In our eyes, no nation in the world is ready for killer robots – technologically, legally, or ethically. More importantly, we see no compelling justification that this technology needs to exist in human hands,” he writes.

As a company continuing to work for and with multiple militaries, Clearpath has a lot to lose by closing the door on a potentially lucrative market and field of research. However, if other companies follow suit, Clearpath stands to lose a lot less. And the world would gain a lot more.

Clearpath’s decision to block the path for killer robots is a bold one. I also believe it is the right one, and I wholeheartedly support Gariepy’s call to politicians, military commanders and other robotics companies:

“We call on anyone who has the potential to influence public policy to stop the development of killer robots before it’s too late.

We encourage those who might see business opportunities in this technology to seek other ways to apply their skills and resources for the betterment of humankind.”

¹The Husky has many uses. It can, for example be equipped to search for landmines (article in Norwegian at Robotbokbloggen.net).

 

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