In a world where tech companies and governments quietly race to build increasingly autonomous weapons, youth have a stake in preventing a future of digital dehumanisation and autonomous killing. Fully autonomous weapons, or ‘killer robots’, are weapons that would select and engage targets without any meaningful human control. These systems would delegate life and death decisions to machines, programs, and algorithms – crossing an ethical red line, contravening law designed to protect civilians, and destabilizing global security. The only way to prevent such a future is to urgently establish an international treaty that prohibits fully autonomous weapons and retains meaningful human control over the use of force.
Since multilateral discussions on fully autonomous weapons began in 2014, the call for such a legally binding instrument has been endorsed by dozens of states, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, 26 Nobel Peace laureates, hundreds of faith leaders, thousands of artificial intelligence and technology experts, and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots – a global coalition of more than 170 non-governmental organisations in 65 countries. And now, young leaders are speaking up too.
On 12 December 2020, the ‘Global Youth Conference on Fully Autonomous Weapons’ helped advance youth leadership in humanitarian disarmament by providing an avenue for youth to contribute to ongoing multilateral discussions on fully autonomous weapons. The conference was the first global youth event convened on killer robots, and provided an opportunity both for youth participants to learn about the issue and how it relates to global peace and security, and a platform for young leaders to call on their governments to take action.
Convened by International Student Conference (ISC) – one of the oldest student-run organizations based in Tokyo, Japan – and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the conference was held virtually via Zoom Webinar and brought together more than 150 participants. Youth speakers from 20 countries provided lightning remarks on their countries’ position on fully autonomous weapons, and why they personally support a ban. Other speakers included a representative of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Human Rights Watch Japan Director Kanae Doi, Kenichiro Mogi – a prominent Japanese neuroscientist, and Soo Hyun Kim – the #Youth4Disarmament lead for the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs.
Youth are the future coders, programmers, engineers, soldiers, diplomats, politicians, activists, and organizers who would face the consequences resulting from the use of killer robots. They also have the power to change the direction that governments and the private sector are taking with respect to emerging technologies in warfare and ensure that tech is used for the benefit of humanity, rather than its harm. Which is why we’re listening up when they say it’s time to ban killer robots.
Remarks by Youth Speakers: