This Chronology shows how various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) concerned about fully autonomous weapons came together to establish the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and advocate for a ban on these weapons. It tracks significant developments in government policy and practice and charts activities aimed at addressing the challenges raised by weapons that could select and attack targets without meaningful human control. For a comprehensive listing of academic writing on this topic, please see the ICRAC website.
Aug. 18: In the Guardian, roboticist Prof. Noel Sharkey warns against the development of fully autonomous robots that make their own decisions about lethality and calls for their urgent international regulation.
Sep: Noel Sharkey, Jürgen Altmann, Peter Asaro, and Rob Sparrow agree to establish the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC), calling, inter alia, for “prohibition of the development, deployment and use of armed autonomous unmanned systems”
Aug: A report by United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Prof. Philip Alston, finds that, “Urgent consideration needs to be given to the legal, ethical and moral implications of the development and use of robotic technologies, especially but not limited to uses for warfare.”
Oct: ICRAC convenes its first workshop in Berlin where its members call for an international treaty to prohibit development, acquisition, deployment, and use of armed autonomous robot weapons.
Apr: In an article for the International Journal of Intelligence Ethics, Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams calls for a ban on “fully autonomous attack and kill robotic weapons.”
Oct. 19: Representatives from seven NGOs meet in New York and agree to form a coordinated civil society “Campaign to Stop Killer Robots” aimed at securing a preemptive prohibition on the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons.
Oct. 20-21: At a Campaign Summit in New York representatives from 40 NGOs working in humanitarian disarmament commit to take action against fully autonomous weapons.
Nov. 19: Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic launch a 49-page report Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots, which calls for a pre-emptive ban on fully autonomous weapons.
Nov. 21: The US Department of Defense issues a policy directive on autonomous weapons, making the US the first government to spell out its policy on these weapons.
Apr. 22-23: The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is launched in London with an all-day NGO conference, press briefing, and Parliamentary event.
May 23: Campaign representatives participate in a seminar on unmanned military systems in SWP in Berlin.
May 30: During the first Human Rights Council debate on lethal autonomous robotics following the presentation of the report by the UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, 20 nations speak for the first time on the matter: Algeria, Austria, Brazil, China, Cuba, Egypt, France, Germany, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, Sierra Leone, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, and US, as well as the European Union, Organization of the Islamic Conference, Latin American network GRULAC, and Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. More than 20 nations attend the campaign’s first-ever side event on May 28. See report.
Jun. 17: UK parliament holds its first-ever adjournment debate on lethal autonomous robots.
June 19: A University of Massachusetts survey of 1,000 Americans finds a majority oppose fully autonomous weapons and support actions to campaign against them.
Aug: The International Committee of the Red Cross issues a “new technologies” edition of its quarterly journal, including fully autonomous weapons.
Sep. 3: More than 20 countries attend a seminar convened by France at the UN in Geneva on fully autonomous weapons systems.
Sep. 4: Norges Fredslaget begins a public campaign to secure Norwegian support for a ban on fully autonomous weapons.
Oct: During the UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security in New York, 16 governments articulate their views on killer robots in their statements, including for the first time Costa Rica, Ecuador, Greece, India, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, and South Africa. There is strong turn-out for two consecutive side events on autonomous weapons: a UNIDIR briefing by Professor Christof Heyns and a Campaign to Stop Killer Robots briefing held with Switzerland on 21 October.
Nov. 5: IKV Pax Christi’s Miriam Struyk speaks on autonomous weapons and military technology at the University of Amsterdam.
Nov. 8: AAR-Japan hosts an event in Tokyo featuring a presentation by ICRAC’s Dr. Peter Asaro.
Nov. 11-14: Italian campaign events in Rome with Nobel Laureate Ms. Jody Williams.
Nov. 11-15: At the the Convention on Conventional Weapons in Geneva, 35 nation express their views on autonomous weapons systems, including 15 nations for the first time: Australia, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Ghana, Holy See, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Madagascar, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, and Ukraine. A Campaign to Stop Killer Robots side event on Nov. 13 attracts 120 delegates from dozens of countries.
Nov. 15: States parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons agree to a mandate to begin work in 2014 on the emerging technology of “lethal autonomous weapons systems.”
Nov. 20: Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights debate on autonomous weapons by ICRAC’s Dr. Peter Asaro and Prof. Matt Waxman of the Lawfare Blog.
Dec. 3-5: Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights experts meeting in Divonne, Switzerland on armed drones and robots
Feb. 6-7: US Naval War College holds a workshop on “legal implications of autonomous weapons systems” attended by armed forces representatives from the US, Australia, Canada, Israel, and UK
Feb. 24-25: Chatham House holds its first conference on autonomous military technologies
Feb. 27: By a vote of 534–49, the European Parliament adopt its first resolution calling for a ban on “development, production and use of fully autonomous weapons which enable strikes to be carried out without human intervention”
Mar. 5-7: Campaigners brief a meeting of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters in New York
Mar. 26-28 (Geneva): First experts meeting on autonomous weapons systems convened by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and attended by 21 nations plus campaign members. Read the report of the meeting.
May 12: Jody Williams (1997) and 20 other Nobel Peace laureates issue a joint call for a preemptive ban on fully autonomous weapons. Signatories include Mairead Maguire (1976), Betty Williams (1976), Rigoberta Menchú Tum (1992), Shirin Ebadi (2003), Leymah Gbowee (2011), and Tawakkol Karman (2011), who together with Williams are members of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, a co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. They also include former presidents Lech Walesa of Poland (1983), Oscar Arias Sánchez of Costa Rica (1987), F.W. de Klerk of South Africa (1993), and José Ramos-Horta of Timor-Leste (1996).
May 13-16: Representatives from 87 nations, UN agencies, the ICRC, and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots participate in the first multilateral meeting on “lethal autonomous weapons systems” at the UN in Geneva. Convened under the auspices of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), the informal meeting features presentations by 18 experts on technical, ethical, legal, and operational questions raised by the weapons. Czech Republic, Guatemala, Mali, and Norway speak for the first time on the matter at the meeting.
Aug. 13: ClearPath Robotics of Kitchener, Canada issues a statement pledging its support for the call for a preemptive ban on fully autonomous weapons. The company says it will continue to work with its military clients, but has “vouched to not manufacture weaponized robots that remove humans from the loop” as it “has chosen to value our ethics over potential future revenue.”
Oct: During the UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security in New York, 23 governments include killer robots in their remarks, including Bulgaria and Finland for the first time. Strong turn-out for a Campaign to Stop Killer Robots side event held together with Croatia on 21 October, which featured Ryan Garipy of Clearpath Robotics.
Nov. 12: More than 70 faith leaders of various denominations including Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa endorse an interfaith call to action against fully autonomous weapons.
Nov. 14: Nations agree to hold a second Convention on Conventional Weapons meeting 2015 on lethal autonomous weapons systems. Colombia and Palestine speak on the matter for the first time. Strong turn-out for consecutive side events on autonomous weapons. Front page The New York Times article.
Dec. 14: The Dalai Lama (1989) and other Nobel Peace Laureates issue a declaration that states, “we support the call for a pre-emptive ban on fully autonomous weapons (killer robots) – weapons that would be able to select and attack targets without human intervention” and urges “we must prevent this new form of inhumane warfare.
Jan. 13: After the first conference held by the Future of Life Institute on the “future of artificial intelligence” in Puerto Rico on Jan. 2-4, prominent scientists and researchers from industry and academia issue an open letter calling for AI and smart machine research that is “robust and beneficial” to humanity and linking to a document outlining “research directions that can help maximize the societal benefit of AI” including numerous questions on ‘lethal autonomous weapons systems.’ On January 14, Elon Musk announces a $10 million donation to implement the research call. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots welcomes the initiative’s inclusion of autonomous weapons concerns as an interdisciplinary research priority.
Jan. 29: Steve Goose, HRW and Prof. Ron Arkin of Georgia Tech debate on autonomous weapons at the annual Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) conference in Austin, TX.
Mar. 13: Canadian Red Cross and Carlton University hold an event in Ottawa on “‘Killer Robots: The Future of Weaponry and IHL.”
Apr. 13-17: Representatives from 90 nations, UN agencies, the ICRC, and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots attend the second Convention on Conventional Weapons meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems, chaired by Ambassador Michael Biontino of Germany.
Jul. 28: More than 1,000 artificial intelligence and robotics researchers and 15,000 other endorsers sign an open letter calling for a ban on autonomous weapons. By January 2016, more than 3,000 AI experts have signed the call.
Oct: At the UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security in New York, 32 governments and five groups of states raise autonomous weapons concerns, including Botswana, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Romania for the first time. AI letter signatory Professor Toby Walsh addresses a Campaign to Stop Killer Robots side event held together with Costa Rica on 20 October as well as a press conference.
Nov. 13: Nations agree to hold a third meeting in 2016 to continue deliberations on lethal autonomous weapons systems at the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW). Campaigners are denied access to an informal consultation after the United Kingdom objects, breaking a 20 year practice of NGO participation at such sessions. During the meeting, Iraq, Nicaragua, Kazakhstan, and Zimbabwe articulate their views on killer robots for the first time, making a total of 66 states that have spoken on the topic since 2013.
Jan. 21: The World Economic Forum and TIME convene a panel of disarmament, weapons, and robotics experts to consider “what if robots went to war?” in Davos, Switzerland. Killer robots were first raised at the forum during a 2015 panel on technology.
Feb. 4: A report for the Human Rights Council on the proper management of assemblies by two Special Rapporteurs recommends that: “Autonomous weapons systems that require no meaningful human control should be prohibited.” This upgrades a moratorium call first issued by one of the Special Rapporteurs in 2013.
Mar. The ethics council of the $830 billion Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global announces that it intends to begin monitoring companies investing in the potential development of fully autonomous weapons systems and see if such investments would be contrary to the fund’s investment policies and ethical guidelines. Council chair Johan H. Andreson describes the initiative as “a statement of fair warning, a heads-up.”
Mar. 15-16: Second experts meeting on autonomous weapons systems convened by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Mar. 17-18: German Foreign Office & SWP (German Institute for International and Security Affairs) workshop in Berlin on defining autonomy and autonomous weapons.
Mar. 25: Association for Aid and Relief, Japan event in Tokyo on autonomous weapons concerns with campaign coordinator Mary Wareham
Apr. 4: James Madison University Center for International Stabilization and Recovery talk in Harrisonburg by campaign coordinator Mary Wareham
Apr. 11-15: Third Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) informal meeting of experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems
Apr. 17-19: Campaign to Stop Killer Robots strategy retreat, meetings in the Hague with officials and parliamentarians, public forum at De Balie in Amsterdam
Apr. 20-22: International Committee for Robot Arms Control meeting in London
Aug. 26: Buzzfeed publishes an 8,000-word long-read by Sarah Topal on autonomous weapons, providing an unprecedented profile of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, diplomatic process, and state of development of autonomous weapons.
Aug. 31 – Sept. 2: Preparatory meeting for the CCW’s Fifth Review Conference. More than 30 states reaffirmed the objective of establishing a Group of Governmental Experts in December. Only one nation expressed reluctance.
Sep. 2: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) & Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) workshop on autonomous systems and their societal impact.
Sep. 26: Heather M. Roff of Arizona State University publishes the first publicly-available dataset tracking military autonomy, which identifies 284 weapons systems with autonomous features.
Sep. 29: Campaign coordinator Mary Wareham speaks on a panel on lethal autonomous weapons systems at a conference on emerging technologies held by the PIR Center and diplomatic academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.
Oct. 11-13: Campaign members Richard Moyes of Article 36 and Heather Roff of ICRAC attend United Kingdom’s Second International Weapon Review Forum in Shrivenham.
Oct. 14: Kanae Doe of HRW speaks at the World Business Council for Peace in 2016 conference on inhumane weapons and killer robots.
Oct: At the 71st session of the UNGA First Committee on Disarmament, at least 36 states have expressed support for the CCW process to address lethal autonomous weapons systems during the general and/or conventional weapons debates: Austria, Bangladesh, Botswana, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lebanon, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, and United States. Almost every country to address killer robots at UNGA expressed strong support for creating a Group of Governmental Experts at the CCW’s Review Conference in December. Russia, UK, and the US were notable exceptions.
Oct. 18: Campaign side event briefing for UNGA delegates with Pakistan’s Ambassador Tehmina Janjua, president of the CCW’s Fifth Review Conference, AI expert Professor Stuart Russell, and Human Rights Watch arms director Steve Goose.
Oct. 21: Campaign coordinator Mary Wareham addresses a panel on robots & artificial intelligence at a Harvard University Law and International Development Society symposium on technology.
Oct. 31: Campaign coordinator Wareham speaks on a panel on autonomy in military operations a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace & Carnegie Mellon University colloquium on technology, innovation and international affairs.
Nov. 18: Danish Institute for International Studies public seminar on killer robots in Copenhagen
Dec. 5-6: HRW’s Bonnie Docherty addresses OPNAV and CNA Center for Strategic Studies Future Strategy Forum in Washington DC
Dec. 16: At the Fifth Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons states establish a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) to formalize the process on lethal autonomous weapons and meet for two weeks in 2017. The group of nations endorsing the call to ban these weapons expanded to 19 with the additions of Argentina, Guatemala, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. China for the first time called for new international law on killer robots.
24-28 Apr. or–depending on finances–21-25 Aug: First Group of Governmental Experts meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems, chaired by Ambassador Amandeep Singh Gill of India.
13-17 Nov: Second Group of Governmental Experts meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems.
22-24 Nov: Annual CCW meeting, where decision will be taken on future work to address concerns over lethal autonomous weapons systems.
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This Chronology is supposed to illustrative and not comprehensive. Comments are welcome.