Global Survey Highlights Continued Opposition to Fully Autonomous Weapons

A new Ipsos survey finds an average of 61 percent of adults across 28 countries oppose the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems

Washington, DC, February 2, 2021 — A new Ipsos survey for the Human Rights Watch Campaign to Stop Killer Robots finds an average of 61% of adults across 28 countries oppose the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems, also known as fully autonomous weapons. On the other hand, 21% support such use and 17% do not have an opinion.

The online survey conducted between November 20, 2020 and January 8, 2021 among 20,505 adults aged 16-74 finds that views about “killer robots” are almost unchanged from those seen in a similar survey conducted in late 2018, confirming gains in opposition to them relative to a survey conducted in January 2017.

Respondents to all three surveys were presented with the following statement and question: “The United Nations is reviewing the strategic, legal and moral implications of lethal autonomous weapons systems. These weapons systems would be capable of independently selecting targets and attacking those targets without human intervention. They are thus different than current day "drones" where humans select and attack targets. How do you feel about the use of such lethal autonomous weapons systems in war?”

In the most recent survey, opponents to fully autonomous weapons outnumber supporters in all, but one of the 28 countries covered in the latest survey.

  • Geographically, opposition is strongest in Sweden (76%), Turkey (73%), and Hungary (70%). The only country showing majority support is India (56%), as was the case in 2018. Countries showing the largest proportions of respondents unsure of their opinion are France (30%), Japan (29%), and the Netherlands (26%).
  • Globally, opposition prevails among for both women (63%) and men (60%), but support is higher among men (26%) than it is among women (17%) while women (20%) are more likely to be unsure than men (14%).
  • Across age groups, opposition to killer robots increases steadily with age from an all-country average of 54% for those under age 35 to 69% among those aged 50-74.

Moral concerns are the #1 reason for opposing the use of lethal autonomous weapons. Among those who oppose them:

  • 66% say that these systems cross a moral line as machines should not be allowed to kill;
  • 53% say they are concerned these weapons would be “unaccountable”;
  • 42% worry that killer robots would be subject to technical failures; and
  • 24% say they’d be illegal.

About the Study

These are the results of a 28-market survey conducted by Ipsos on its Global Advisor online platform. Ipsos interviewed a total of 20,505 adults under the age of 75, including 19,505 adults in 26 markets between November 20 and December 4, 2020, and 500 each in Israel and Colombia between December 23, 2020 and January 8, 2021.
Those surveyed were aged 18-74 in the United States, Canada, Israel, South Africa, and Turkey, and 16-74 in the other 23 countries. 

The sample consists of approximately 1,000 individuals in each of Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, mainland China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the U.S., and 500 individuals in each of Argentina, Hungary, India, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey.

The samples in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.S. can be taken as representative of their general adult population under the age of 75.

The samples in Brazil, mainland China, India, Israel, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Turkey are more urban, more educated, and/or more affluent than the general population. The survey results for these countries should be viewed as reflecting the views of the more “connected” segment of their population.

The data is weighted so that each country’s sample composition best reflects the demographic profile of the adult population according to the most recent census data.
Where results do not sum to 100 or the ‘difference’ appears to be +/-1 more/less than the actual, this may be due to rounding, multiple responses, or the exclusion of “don't know” or not stated responses.

The precision of Ipsos online polls is calculated using a credibility interval with a poll of 1,000 accurate to +/- 3.5 percentage points and of 500 accurate to +/- 5.0 percentage points. For more information on Ipsos' use of credibility intervals, please visit the Ipsos website.
The publication of these findings abides by local rules and regulations.

About Ipsos

Ipsos is the world’s third largest market research company, present in 90 markets and employing more than 18,000 people.

Our passionately curious research professionals, analysts and scientists have built unique multi-specialist capabilities that provide true understanding and powerful insights into the actions, opinions and motivations of citizens, consumers, patients, customers, or employees. We serve more than 5000 clients across the world with 75 business solutions.

Founded in France in 1975, Ipsos is listed on the Euronext Paris since July 1st, 1999. The company is part of the SBF 120 and the Mid-60 index and is eligible for the Deferred Settlement Service (SRD).

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