Twitter / SophieCo_RT: The menace of Skynet-style

The menace of Skynet-style killer #robots is what Nobel winner Jody Williams is on a crusade to stop - on air today

US drone warfare breeds terrorists around the globe - Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize winner ― RT SophieCo

The future has sneaked up on us unnoticed. What was science fiction a couple of decades ago is now everyday reality. But it’s not only computers and smartphones – the progress has brought us new war machines – unmanned drones striking from the skies are no surprise for anyone today. But what has the progress of warfare prepared for us in the coming years?

Sophie Shevarnadze: Our guest today is Jody Williams, political activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Jody, it’s so great to have you on our show.

Jody Williams: Sophie, thank you for inviting me.

SS: So, you work to get landmines banned, and that won you a Nobel Peace Prize. Now you are targeting what you call “killer robots” – fully autonomous weapons. Tell us more about them, for those who don’t know what they are, in simple words.

JW: Sure. I think when we say “killer robots,” most people think of drones, but killer robots are weapons that would make drones look primitive. At least with the drone, there is a human being who looks at the computer screen, sees the target and pushes the buttons to fire the missiles and kill. Various militaries are doing research on weapons that would have no human being involved in the targeting and killing of human beings. We found that shocking and horrifying that people are really thinking that it is OK to give the right to target and kill human beings to machines.

SS: These things haven’t been used yet, right? Tell me more…

JW: Correct, but there are many precursors to what we call “killer robots.” The US, for example, is testing the X-47B, which is a sub-sonic “superdrone” as it is called. The UK is testing the Taranis, European countries under France are testing the Neuron, China has just tested its own stealth drone, and we’re not quite certain about what Russia is testing, but I do know that Russia announced in 2013 that they would be opening a military robot center in 2014. There are prototypes from the stealth drones all the way down to micro-robots which are the size of the mosquito, that could fly into a room and either do surveillance or fly into the room and inject a toxin and kill the target – it’s very frightening that people think this is OK.

SS: Wouldn’t it still take a human being to actually switch it on and direct it one way or another?

JW: It would take the robot to be programmed, but once it was set free, it would proceed to make the targeting and kill decisions unless our campaign to stop the killer robots is able to make certain that human beings have to be involved meaningfully in the kill decision.

SS: Just before we get into the whole moral side of the story, I want to know a little bit more about the technicalities. So, are these things uncontrollable once they are put in action, or can you actually stop them, reverse the action, and bring them back?

JW: That we don’t know yet, because, as you point out, these are still in the prototype and testing phase. Robot scientists, some of whom are part of our campaign, talk often about what would happen if a squadron, for example, of stealth killer drones were set free and then were hacked – just like computer hackers hack into computer systems, there is no saying that they couldn’t hack into killer drones squadron and set it amok. Who then is responsible for the killings by the killer robots? Is it the programmer? Is it the commander somehow in charge of the squadron? Is it the person who programmed the robot? Is it the producer of the robot? In international law there has to be a direct chain of command and accountability. That is another part of this that makes it ethically unsound and morally reprehensible, quite frankly.

SS: If you take drones apart from the killer robots, I just want to know your personal take on them – can the use of drones to carry out attacks be morally justified, is it OK?

SS: Many would argue that sophisticated weapons, like drones, despite all their disadvantages are still better than humans that are locating targets, plus the life of the pilot is safe…

SS: So you don’t think Obama deserved a Nobel Peace Prize?

JW: I’ve said it publicly many times, so I won’t shy from saying it now – first off, I think it is the fault of the Nobel Committee at that time for selecting him. Mr. Nobel’s will is very clear about the terms that should be followed in selecting recipient of the Peace Prize, and expressions of future possibilities as Mr. Obama was talking about in terms of nuclear disarmament, expressions of the future are not terms of the will. So, I think the Nobel Committee itself made an egregious error. When Mr. Obama came out of the White House and said that he knew he did not deserve the Peace Prize – I was proud of him for that moment, and I wish he had continued to say, “Therefore I cannot accept it”. And I don’t think Henry Kissinger ever deserved it.

SS: You seem super-confident in every step you make, it’s like there’s no stopping you, and thank God for that. You have physically been assaulted and attacked because of your activism, and you’re still not scared. How do you put the fear aside? What keeps you going every morning that you get up?

JW: I was thinking about this the other day. I was at the meeting of the women parliamentarians and talking about women’s leadership, whether it’s in parliaments or in companies or in activism, and I was thinking about the six women who are part of Nobel’s Women Initiative and every one of us is fearless and fierce in our belief that we can make the world a better place. We are fearless and fierce in righteous indignation at injustice. That what makes me move, when I feel fire in my heart about the situation, I can’t not do something. So that’s what led me to start pushing groups to create a campaign to stop killer robots. When I learned about them I was so freaked out, I was terrified, totally, honestly, I was terrified. And then I knew I had to do something to try to address this issue publicly. We deserve to have a global conversation about how wars are conducted in our names. I feel fierce about making sure this doesn’t happen; it is not inevitable.

SS: We have time for just one last question. You say that “worry without real action is a waste of time,” but what if you feel helpless? I mean, how can an ordinary person stop governments from doing whatever they are doing?

JW: My dear, I am an extremely ordinary person. I come from a village of 1,200 people in a tiny state of Vermont. Neither my mother, nor my father finished high school, and yet they encouraged me to be what I wanted to be in the world, and I went out and the first thing I did was volunteer in the organization working on El Salvador. There’s nothing magic about it. I recently wrote a memoir of grassroots activism in which I talk about that, I talk about my very meager and poor family life. We were rich with love in support, but we didn’t have money. I write about the fact that I was a confused college kid, like so many. I write about the fact that I made mistakes in life, and yet I never veered from my belief that we all have the capacity to contribute to a better world. You don’t have to be a full-time activist, like I am. I somehow had the privilege of finding this path in my own life, but I try to imagine, if everybody in the world who really wanted the better world for us all, even people they don’t like, if everybody just volunteered a few hours a month, on whatever issue they feel passion about – it doesn’t have to be mine, it doesn’t have to be killer robots, it doesn’t have to be weapons, it doesn’t have to be… I work on climate change as well - but anything that makes for a better community, if you volunteered, then you are empowering yourself. We each have power, and we either choose to use it or not. I chose to use, and I will continue to use until I die, because I believe we all have responsibility as well as rights, and I am exercising mine forever.