For as long as we’ve been able to make robots, we’ve been worried about them killing us.
In 1942, Isaac Asimov published a short story called Runaround that both coined the term "robotics" and introduced the idea of robots killing humans. Last week, one company set out to assure people that it, too, was worried about this potential threat.
Yes, the organized campaign against killer robots has gained momentum as the technology and militarization of robotics has advanced, and the smartest thing the movement has done is pick its name. “Killer robots” still isn’t a well-defined term, but it's clearly a winning one.
Autonomous robotic systems have indeed come a long way since Asimov. Far enough that, in 2012, Human Rights Watch issued a report making the case against lethal autonomous weapons systems—weapons that can make lethal decisions without human involvement. Except they didn’t call them “lethal autonomous weapons systems.” The title of the report was “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots.”
Mary Wareham, coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, admits it was a bit much. “We put killer robots in the title of our report to be provocative and get attention,” she says. “It’s shameless campaigning and advocacy, but we’re trying to be really focused on what the real life problems are, and killer robots seemed to be a good way to begin the dialogue.”