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 New Survey Shows Widespread Opposition to Autonomous Weaponry

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Date posted: 22/06/2013

The results of a new survey by the University of Massachusetts Amherst show that a majority of Americans across the political spectrum oppose the outsourcing of lethal military and defense targeting decisions to machines. The opposition to autonomous weaponry is bipartisan, with the strongest opposition on the far left and far right, and among active and former members of the military.

A random sample of 1,000 Americans was asked how they felt about military technology that could take humans out of the loop altogether, dubbed “killer robots” by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, an international coalition of non-governmental organizations launched in April that is working to ban-fully autonomous weapons. The survey was posted today at the website Duck of Minerva, an international affairs blog.

Overall, 55 percent of the survey’s respondents said that they oppose the development of autonomous weapons, while 39 percent were “strongly opposed.” Of the remainder, nearly 20 percent were “not sure,” but the study found that people without a strong opinion tended to favor a precautionary approach to the emerging technology. The findings were consistent across all ages, regions, education and income levels, as well as both genders, but those with higher levels of education and those most likely to follow the news were more opposed.

The survey was overseen by Charli Carpenter, associate professor of political science at UMass Amherst and a specialist in human security and global advocacy movements. Carpenter, who has studied the ethical debate around autonomous weapons since 2007, determined that the survey’s findings support the claims of advocates for a pre-emptive ban.

“While much of the recent public debate has focused on remote-controlled military drones, there has been less research on what people think about fully-autonomous weapons,” Carpenter said. “This question matters in terms of the international law on new weapons, because an important treaty clause states that ‘the public conscience’ should serve to guide policy decisions in the absence of clear rules. These findings would suggest that people across the board do tend to feel very concerned about the development of these forms of weapons.”

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