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Meet the Resistance Against Your Future Terminator Overlords

The wife-and-husband duo are lobbying to get governments to commit not to use weapons that decide where to strike without human intervention.

Paramount Pictures

The science fiction nightmare of a soulless Terminator robot-soldier, without compassion or the ability to discern enemy combatant from innocent civilian, is frighteningly close to becoming a reality.

Some of the greatest opponents of this dystopian future are those with a stake in the robotics industry, including Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking. Then there is this ordinary-looking couple: Jody Williams and Stephen Goose, a married pair whose passion and goal is to make sure this emerging threat remains a fiction. Williams is a Nobel laureate, having won the Peace Prize in 1997 for her efforts to ban and eradicate land mines; Goose is the executive director of the arms division of Human Rights Watch.

They are our front line against your future robot overlords.

Ina Fried for Re/code

“When you talk to people about this, they immediately just know in their gut that it is wrong, that it is wrong to delegate life-and-death decisions on the battlefield to a machine,” Goose told Re/code over drinks at the DLD16 conference in Munich, where both spoke — Williams sporting a T-shirt declaring her an “Unarmed Civilian.”

To be clear, it’s not just evil robots that the pair oppose. They want the decision of who to target and when to be made by people, not machines.

“It is wrong,” Goose said, “to delegate life-and-death decisions on the battlefield to a machine, to take away the human dignity of having another human make the determination.”

Williams added, “It’s our intention to get [military robotics experts] to not cross that divide and remove meaningful human control from targeting and killing.”

While gaining support from many in the technology and religious community, the pair has had trouble getting governments to commit to not developing such weapons. More embrace the notion of “meaningful human control” but do so in a way that leaves open the door to such weapons.

“We’ve got about 10 governments on record as saying they will never pursue these things,” Goose said. “But we’ve got dozens and dozens who have embraced this notion of ‘meaningful human control.’ … Some governments may see meaningful human control as good programming.”

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots kicked off in London in April 2013 and “freaked out the governments enough,” according to Williams, that “they started meeting in Geneva, at the UN, to discuss the problem.”

“Something that normally would have taken years,” added Goose.

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