The Stop the Killer Robots campaign will be launched in April at the House of Commons and includes many of the groups that successfully campaigned to have international action taken against cluster bombs and landmines. They hope to get a similar global treaty against autonomous weapons.

“These things are not science fiction; they are well into development,” said Sharkey. “The research wing of the Pentagon in the US is working on the X47B [unmanned plane] which has supersonic twists and turns with a G-force that no human being could manage, a craft which would take autonomous armed combat anywhere in the planet…

At present, Sharkey says, there is no mechanism in a robot’s “mind” to distinguish between a child holding up a sweet and an adult pointing a gun. “We are struggling to get them to distinguish between a human being and a car. We have already seen utter incompetence in the use of drones, operators making a lot of mistakes and not being properly supervised.”