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Some leading robot makers are pledging not to weaponize them

People take pictures and videos of Boston Dynamics Robot Dog named "Spot" during a presentation on the last day of the Web Summit in Lisbon on November 7, 2019. - Europe's largest tech event Web Summit is held at Parque das Nacoes in Lisbon from November 4 to November 7. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP) (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP /AFP via Getty Images)
People take pictures and videos of Boston Dynamics Robot Dog named "Spot" during a presentation on the last day of the Web Summit in Lisbon on November 7, 2019. - Europe's largest tech event Web Summit is held at Parque das Nacoes in Lisbon from November 4 to November 7. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP) (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP /AFP via Getty Images)

Boston Dynamics and five other robotics companies have signed an open letter saying what many of us were already nervously hoping for anyway: Let's not weaponize general-purpose robots.

The six leading tech firms — including Agility Robotics, ANYbotics, Clearpath Robotics, Open Robotics and Unitree — say advanced robots could result in huge benefits in our work and home lives but that they may also be used for nefarious purposes.

"Untrustworthy people could use them to invade civil rights or to threaten, harm, or intimidate others," the companies said.

"We believe that adding weapons to robots that are remotely or autonomously operated, widely available to the public, and capable of navigating to previously inaccessible locations where people live and work, raises new risks of harm and serious ethical issues," they added.

The firms pledged not to weaponize their "advanced-mobility general-purpose robots" or the software that makes them function. They also said they would try to make sure their customers didn't weaponize the companies' products.

They companies said they don't take issue with "existing technologies" that governments use to "defend themselves and uphold their laws."

According to Boston Dynamics' website, police and fire departments are using the company's dog-like robot Spot to assess risky situations, but the firm says Spot is not designed for surveillance or to replace police officers.

There have been growing calls across the globe to curb the use of autonomous weapons systems — which operate on their own and don't involve a human operator — and the Stop Killer Robots campaign says nearly 100 countries and a majority of people oppose autonomous weapons.

But a meeting of the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons last year failed to reach a consensus governing the use of so-called killer robots, due in part to objections from countries working on such technologies including the U.S, the UK and Russia, CNBC reported.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.