Swiss lawyer warns of deadly threat from robots

The threat to humans from robots is no longer the stuff of science-fiction according to a Swiss lawyer who has proposed an international treaty to protect us – and the robots – from harm.

Swiss lawyer warns of deadly threat from robots
File photo: Eric Piermont/AFP

On Wednesday Sébastien Fanti, a lawyer from the canton of Valais, presented the first international treaty on the rights of robots at a conference in Shanghai, reported daily Le Matin.

The Lexing conference brought together lawyers from all over the world to discuss the legal implications of robotics and related areas.

According to Fanti, the law is falling behind technology, which could have serious consequences for the use of robots in daily life, such as driverless cars.

“If the algorithm must choose between braking and killing the passenger who is isn’t wearing a seatbelt or running over the pedestrian on the crossing, what will it do?,” Fanti told the paper.

Switzerland is at the forefront of the driverless vehicle revolution, with the city of Sion in the Valais being one of the first towns in the world to pilot driverless buses on the streets.

As well as protecting us from machines, the treaty would apply in reverse, too.

Fanti, who owns a robot himself and has observed people's reactions to it, pointed out that many people don’t consider certain robots as machines or objects “because they have too much autonomy”.

As such, we must learn to live together and put laws in place to protect both human and robot, warned Fanti.

“In ten years I think there will be some abuse towards robots. We must have laws, otherwise it will be a real shambles,” he said.

Fanti’s published text outlines the challenges that robots present and compares the current varying responses of 17 countries, including Switzerland.

An international treaty on the subject is necessary  to “standardize the rules at international level because the robots could be made in China but used in the entire world,” he told Le Matin.

“Robots are the future and they will be everywhere in our daily life. If we don’t act, if we don’t put laws in place, there will be deaths.”

Earlier this year experts at the World Economic Forum in Davos said robots were being developed that could correct children’s homework, sort the laundry and help those needing care in the home.

But they also warned about the dangers of developing “killer robots”, meaning robotic weapons with artificial intelligence that could be used in warfare.

In 2015 around 1,000 scientists said in an open letter than the development of autonomous weapons – as opposed to drones controlled by humans – could be possible within years, and called for a ban on offensive weapons that are beyond meaningful human control.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Swiss weapons exports up 38 percent despite pandemic

Switzerland’s weapons exports have seen a 38 percent increase in 2020, according to official government figures.

Swiss weapons exports up 38 percent despite pandemic
Swiss weapons exports are on track for their highest year on record. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Switzerland exported CHF690 worth of weapons over the first nine months of 2020. That’s a 38 percent increase on the CHF500 million sold over the corresponding period in 2019. 

Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) published the figures on Tuesday

The biggest customers for Swiss weaponry were Denmark, Indonesia and Germany. 

In total, 76 countries bought Swiss weapons during the period. 

According to current figures, weapons exports are on track to be the highest in Swiss history – beating the record of CHF893 million set in 2011. 

‘Death business is flourishing’ 

The news has been heavily criticised by a number of non-government organisations critical of weapons being sold to countries at war or who may use them against their own citizens. 

The Organisation for Switzerland without an Army (GSOA) and Terre des Hommes have been critical of the figures, particularly as the industry has called for a decrease in regulation in recent years. 

GSOA wrote in a statement “the death business is flourishing”. 

Saudi Arabia – currently involved in a conflict in Yemen – appear on the list, along with Brazil. Weapons opponents are concerned the Swiss exports could be used in the country’s slums, Der Bund reports