It's looking like people worried about being attacked by "killer robots" in Montana may have to wait for some future date to have rules prohibiting "lethal autonomous weapon systems."

House Bill 594 is sponsored by Bozeman Democratic Representative Kelly Kortum and is an example that GOP lawmakers aren't the only ones taking swings at resolving issues that go far beyond the usual legislative fare of taxes and budgets.

Kortman's bill, which was pitched to the House Judiciary Committee last week to counter what he sees as the growing threat from the LAWS systems, which could be drones or robots using facial recognition to carry out an attack.

"Imagine a swarm of flying drones that we're all familiar with at this point, but instead of being armed with a camera they are armed with lethal weapons, such as firearms, explosives, spinning blades and you can imagine other things that could be attached to them." -Rep. Kelly Kortum

Kortum argues the drone "will not be controlled by a human user", but by a computer's "artificial intelligence" that could be programmed to seek and kill exact persons, using facial recognition and other means. He says "most weapons would be ineffective in defending against these invaders."

Rep.Kelly Kortum (D) -MT Legislative photo
Rep.Kelly Kortum (D) -MT Legislative photo

Kortum told his fellow lawmakers "this danger is no longer science fiction" and pointed to reports of autonomous robots being used on foreign battlefields and he feared the technology will lead to "assignations, civil rights abuses, proxy wars, and war crimes."

Penalties provided

The measure, which does have bi-partisan support, would prohibit the "manufacture, possession, use and sale" of autonomous weapons systems in Montana, with violators facing a prison term of up to 20 years and a $50,000 fine, or both.

Why should Montana get involved in an issue that's so global? Kortman believes the Treasure State to lead on a question that could have more effect on our kids than us.

"Montana can lead on this issue. We can ban the use and construction of killer robots and set an example to the nation and world," Kortum said in his opening statement.

A representative from the Montana ACLU expressed support for the measure, saying it could help to "limit harm by the big government" to people. She went on to say there has to be "due process for excessive force" and when operated remotely, could "harm" or "kill regular people."

However, the Montana Trappers Association questioned the extent of such a ban, arguing it could apply to a "mouse trap" because that's lethal force operated remotely.

The committee decided to table the measure on the first reading.

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