Photo/IllutrationAn animation image of countless drones bombarding a city in the United States (From a video created by China Electronics Technology Group Corp.)

Japan will call for international rules on lethal weapons equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) to prevent autonomous machines from starting wars, causing fatal accidents and “deciding” who gets to live or die, sources said.

Tokyo will submit a written proposal to the conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) scheduled from March 25 to 29 in Geneva, they said.

The Japanese government wants to assume a leadership role in discussions on regulating “lethal autonomous weapons systems” (LAWS), the sources said.

These weapons, with built-in AI, could be able to capture or attack a target without human control. Deadly force could be deployed based on the “intention” of the AI installed.

Japan will stress that it is essential for humans to be in control of LAWS.

“Just as gunpowder and nuclear weapons changed the way wars were conducted in the past, artificial intelligence could fundamentally alter the course of future wars,” Foreign Minister Taro Kono said at a Diet session on Jan. 28.

The United States, Russia and China are believed to be developing LAWS, although the weapons have not been put into practical use.

International human rights associations have called for a ban on developing the weapons, calling them “killer robots.”

Essentially, the opponents say human lives should never be put in the hands of artificial intelligence.

LAWS could make it easier for countries to start wars because they could launch an attack without risking the lives of their troops.

But an AI-equipped machine could mistakenly strike a wrong target because of a glitch in the system, leading to serious conflict.

Furthermore, critics say LAWS could fall into the hands of terrorists.

Discussions have been held on how the CCW, which was adopted in 1980, should cover LAWS.

Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, submitted a written proposal to Kono on March 11, saying, “Japan should aim to produce a consensus on a concrete protocol at the CCW.”

The government intends to encourage participants at the conference to discuss how humans can maintain control over LAWS. Tokyo might also bring up international humanitarian law, a set of rules intended to limit the effects of armed conflicts and to protect people, and how it should be applied to AI-controlled weaponry.

Some Latin American countries are seeking a legally binding treaty that prohibits development of LAWS. However, the United States and Russia have said it is too early to consider such a treaty on the weapons.

With the two sides far apart on the issue, Japan’s first step will be to reach a consensus among the countries based on a protocol without legally binding power, the sources said.

Japan itself has no plans to produce LAWS.

“We do not intend to develop any lethal weapon that is completely autonomous and functions without human control,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.

The government, however, plans to research and develop AI or unmanned equipment to secure safety and reduce the burden of the Self-Defense Forces.