US state seeks to outlaw the use of armed robots

The US military and its contractors would be exempt.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Representational image of a weaponized robot.jpg
Representational image of a weaponized robot.


Robots that are autonomous or semi-autonomous and carry weapons or offensive capabilities are often called armed robots. These robots can be employed in a variety of settings, including the military, law enforcement, industry, and security. 

Today, many armed robots are controlled remotely by human operators who can keep a safe distance between themselves and the devices. This is particularly prevalent with military drones, as the operators control the aircraft and its weaponry from a distance, making the machines even more dangerous to civilians.

Functioning autonomously

Complicating matters further is the fact that some armed robots are built to function partially independently, making judgments based on pre-programmed commands and sensor inputs. For instance, certain military robots have the ability to traverse terrain and engage targets on their own.

The development and use of armed robots present several significant moral and legal issues. Concerns include the potential for misuse, accidental harm to civilians, and the question of accountability.

There are continuous efforts to establish rules and laws controlling the deployment of armed robots in order to reduce the risks involved. Now, one US state is trying to outlaw them altogether.

This is according to a press statement by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published on Wednesday.

A group of Massachusetts legislators, human rights organizations, and executives from the robotics sector are joining forces to support legislation that would make arming robots, as well as drones and other uncrewed devices, illegal. 

“This bill puts reasonable guardrails around the use of robots to harass members of the public and bans the weaponization of this technology by those without strict oversight, while also introducing rules for law enforcement to bolster public trust,” state senator Michael Moore, the government official behind the new bill, said in a statement. 

“I am hopeful that, if passed, this legislation can serve as a model for responsible robotics regulation in other states and beyond.”

Hefty fines

The new law would impose fines ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 on those who do not abide by it.

The legislation, however, would not apply to the US military or its contractors, as well as law enforcement personnel who dispose of explosives and commercial businesses that run tests on anti-weaponization technologies.

However, the bill does assert that a warrant would have to be obtained whenever a robot accesses private property, with the exception of emergency situations. The regulation also mandates that law enforcement agencies must comply with Massachusetts' public records legislation by making information about their use of sophisticated robotic technology public.

“The role of robots today is to enhance and improve the lives of humans and this bill will ensure that the positive role that robots play is protected,” said, in the statement, Tom Ryden, Executive Director of MassRobotics, the biggest robotics innovation hub in the US. 

It's crucial to remember that the usage of armed robots is under constant discussion and investigation due to worries about the possible outcomes and moral ramifications of granting computers the power to employ fatal force. As technology develops, society will need to address these challenging issues and set the necessary safeguards to ensure the question of whether to use lethal force or not remains a human one.

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