A Pole killed by Israel in Gaza. Stop the Killer Robots!

Dron wojskowy
Dron wojskowy, Tayeb MEZAHDIA z Pixabay

Israeli soldiers killed a Polish volunteer of the American NGO World Central Kitchen. Damian Soból helped starving Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Has this shocking attack on a humanitarian convoy been carried out using the artificial intelligence – AI? Some thoughts on convenient killing.

On 3 April 2024 the daily newspaper The Guardian published a text titled: The machine did it cold-bloodedly: Israel used AI to identify 37,000 Hamas targets touching upon the topic of Israeli Defence Force’s use of the Lavender system in Gaza. The machine used artificial intelligence algorithms and a database listing more than 37,000 people who could be a potential threat to Israel because of their alleged links to Hamas. Life-and-death decisions were made by the Lavender system, with soldiers taking just 20 seconds to authorise the bombing. As a result, tens of thousands of civilians were put in mortal danger.

This brutal digitisation of the killing process, with people reduced to a set of data, poses a serious threat to humanity and our civilisation.

Worth noting is that Israel is the world’s leading military drones exporter. And by 2035, these machines will make up 95% of the air force.

The tragic event of a Pole having been killed in Gaza reminded me that „there is an existential question waiting to be answered concerning whether our civilisation, in the spirit of humanity, is ready to accept the robotisation of the process of depriving people of their lives”. Kaja Kowalczewska covers this in her paper Deadly systems with progressive autonomy – an international legal analysis [original title: Śmiercionośne systemy z postępującą autonomicznością – analiza prawnomiędzynarodowa].

Convenient killing

„Equally discomfiting is the ‘PlayStation mentality’ that surrounds drone killings. Young military personnel raised on a diet of video games now kill real people remotely using joysticks. Far removed from the human consequences of their actions, how will this generation of fighters value the right to life? How will commanders and policymakers keep themselves immune from the deceptively antiseptic nature of drone killings? Will killing be a more attractive option than capture? Will the standards for intelligence-gathering to justify a killing slip? Will the number of acceptable ‘collateral’ civilian deaths increase?” – ask The Guardian authors in the text A killer above the law?. The article was published in 2010, against a backdrop of the war in Afghanistan, during which the US military deployed drones to carry out lethal operations, including the killing of civilians.

The quote above makes up a motto for the report Convenient Killing: Armed Drones and the ‘Playstation’ Mentality compiled by The Fellowship of Reconciliation. Where did the idea for the title come from? I recommend viewing a picture of the US Army’s Drone Control Centre room in the state of New Mexico.

Fourteen years have passed – and it is becoming more and more convenient to kill. Today, thanks to artificial intelligence and the disappearance of human intelligence.

Nearly 80 years have passed since the end of the Second World War – modernity and mass murder have come round to Gaza. The annihilation of the Palestinian nation today reveals the hidden countenance of our modern society. We observe the final solution to the Palestinian question and remain silent.

The killer robots are already here

„The vision of a world in which life-and-death decisions will be made by operating independently machines devoid of direct human control must be considered seriously”, warn the authors of the book: Drone War. The Military Deployment of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

How do such machines work? I recommend watching the film Metalhead, one of the Black Mirror series’ episodes. Its creators emphasise that „they are terrified of Boston Dynamics robots. It’s not just that they really exist, they evoke a real sense of threat in us. Our reptilian brain perceives them as scary because they are the first serious threat to human civilisation”.

Killer robots resembling the Metalhead are already here. They assist Israeli soldiers in searching underground tunnels in the Gaza Strip. The machines, semi-autonomous walking robots in the shape of a dog, are supplied by US company GhostRobotics.

Acceptance of killer robots will be gradually created by civilian drone applications. The Amazon corporation already delivers mail this way in two US states. This year it is to launch a similar service in the UK and Italy. Let me remind that this concerns Amazon, the company which poses a threat to democracy, as claimed in the findings of the US parliamentary subcommittee on the competition protection investigating the GAFAM monopoly (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft).

„In future there will be no need for control operators, because the drone’s software will possess a range of autonomy so large that it will independently choose its own targets, routes, flight, modes of engagement. What’s more, it probably already exists, its application only awaits the decisions of governments and armies”, writes Błażej Kolański in his book ’What do drones want? From visual novelty to the view of power’ [original title: Czego pragną drony? Od atrakcji wizualnej do spojrzenia władzy]. The author stated so in 2015. Eight years have passed. Blind moles nowadays are presumably looking forward to the release of this software from Pandora’s Box.

Stop Killer Robots

The Civil Affairs Institute is a member of the international Stop Killer Robots (SKR) coalition. We work towards a world that rejects the automation of killing and instead promotes the principle of humane and ethical control over new technologies, in particular weapon systems using artificial intelligence. We do not consent to machines making unassisted decisions of whom to kill.

The Stop Killer Robots campaign was set up in April 2013 by a group of NGOs concerned about evidence of increased autonomy in weapons systems. These days, Stop Killer Robots is a coalition of more than 230 community organisations and academic partners operating in 70 countries. The Civil Affairs Institute is the only polish member within the coalition.

We demand a ban on machines that target humans, reducing us to objects and datasets. We demand that governments around the world start negotiating on a new international law regulating issues emerging around autonomous weapons. Unlike conventional weapons, autonomous weapons can be used to kill people without any human involvement. Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) is another term for autonomous weapons. Their ability to launch an attack without a human operator is what distinguishes them from conventional weapons.

One of the coalition’s efforts’ results is the first UN resolution on autonomous weapons.

In March this year, we submitted an open letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, calling for Poland’s involvement in efforts to ban lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS).

Are the policymakers in our country concerned with the demands of the Stop Killer Robots coalition? No. For eleven years, no party or government has been willing to discuss the question of machines killing people without asking for people’s opinions.

Remember, technology should never replace human judgement and ethics. It is high time we took definitive steps against LAWS. We need to ensure that in future no decisions to kill people are made without human control and, most importantly, human responsibility.

Support us so that we can act before it is too late.

Find out more:

  1. Kowalczewska K., Kowalewski J. (red.),Systemy Dronów Bojowych. Analiza problemów i odpowiedź społeczeństwa obywatelskiego, Warszawa, Wydawnictwo Naukowe Scholar, 2015.
  2. Kopeć R., Wasiuta O., Wójtowicz T., Wojna dronów. Militarne wykorzystanie bezzałogowych statków powietrznych, Kraków, Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Pedagogicznego, 2021.
  3. Nahirny R., Kil A., Zamorska M. (red.), Czego pragną drony? Od atrakcji wizualnej do spojrzenia władzy, Gdańsk, Wydawnictwo Naukowe Katedra, 2017.

A full version of the text in Polish Rafał Górski – Polak zabity przez Izrael w Strefie Gazy. Stop Zabójczym Robotom!

English language version by Berenika Serwatka

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