Model of the killer robot from the movie Terminator 3. (Reuters)
Model of the killer Terminator robot from the movie series (Reuters)

Experts are to debate the morality of using killer robots in war in a meeting at the United Nations base in Geneva.

With the technology needed to create killer robots, or lethal autonomous weapons systems, drawing ever closer to reality, Professors Ronald Arkin and Noel Sharkey, both experts in robotics, will discuss the legislation that might govern their use.

Some claim that current international laws are sufficient to address problems that may arise should they be deployed, and that a moratorium ought to be declared on their use, not an outright ban.

However, opponents say that autonomous killer functions ought to be banned, as they pose a threat to humanity.

"Autonomous weapons systems cannot be guaranteed to predictably comply with international law. Nations aren't talking to each other about this, which poses a big risk to humanity," professor Sharkey, co-founder of the Campaign Against Killer Robots and chairman of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, told the BBC.

Professor Arkin, of the Georgia Institute of Technology, said that the machines could be used to reduce civilian casualties, and could be better able to identify valid targets than a human, but until the technology was developed enough to allow this caution was necessary.

"I support a moratorium until that end is achieved, but I do not support a ban at this time," he said.

The informal meeting will be held during the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), with a report to be presented when the body meets again in November.

It is the first time the issue of killer robots, or lethal autonomous weapons systems, has been discussed by the organisation.

In March, Christof Heyns - the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in a report highlighted the American use of drones to kill suspected terrorists and called for a moratorium on killer robots.

"There is reason to believe that states will, inter alia, seek to use lethal autonomous robotics for targeted killing," he said.

The UK successfully tested the Taranis, an unmanned intercontinental aircraft, in Australia this year and America's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) has been making advances with the Crusher, an unmanned ground combat vehicle, since 2006.