Christof Heyns

Lecture by Christof Heyns: Death By Algorithm

Professor Christof Heyns, Member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, will discuss the implications of autonomous weapons on human life through a lecture titled “Death By Algorithm: Autonomous Weapons and the Right to a Dignified Life” on 8 May at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute.

Heyns is professor of human rights law and Director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa at the University of Pretoria, where he served as Dean of the Faculty of Law and Director of the Centre for Human Rights. He was UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions 2010 – 2016. During 2016 he chaired the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi. He also teaches on the human rights Masters’ programme at Oxford University, is adjunct professor at the American University in Washington DC, and in 2016 was a visiting professor at the University of Geneva.

Date & Time : 8th of May, 15:00-16:30
Location : Pufendorf Lecture Hall, Lilla Grâbrödersgatan 3, Lund


Unmanned weapons systems are increasingly used on the battlefield and in law enforcement. The first generation of these weapons are armed drones, where there is no human on board, but the decision to release force is taken by a human via remote control. The second generation are autonomous weapons, where there is no human on board, and the decision to engage a target is taken by a computer. Drones already raises far-reaching ethical, legal and other questions; autonomous weapons take this to a next level.

Professor Heyns, in his capacity as UN Special Rapporteur, presented a seminal report on autonomous weapons to the Human Rights Council in 2013, and has since served as an expert at meetings of the State Parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons on the topic. He argues that the first question that should be asked is whether autonomous weapons can indeed perform proper targeting, but an additional question also needs to be asked, namely which is whether machines should have the power of life and death over human beings. He explores the implications of machines with full autonomy having such powers in particular for the right to a dignified life.

Professor Gregor Noll from the Faculty of Law at Lund University will act as discussant for this event.