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23sharkey - CHALLENGES OF AUTONOMOUS WEAPONS CHALLENGES OF...

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CHALLENGES OF AUTONOMOUS WEAPONS CHALLENGES OF AUTONOMOUS WEAPONS 86 RUSI DEFENCE SYSTEMS OCTOBER 2008 Grounds for Discrimination: Autonomous Robot Weapons by Professor Noel Sharkey In modern warfare it is difficult to fully protect non-combatants. For example, in attacking a warship, some non-combatants such as chaplains and medical staff may be unavoidably killed. It is also difficult when large explosives are used near civilian populations, or when missiles get misdirected. But the laws of war have a way of handling the unintentional killing of innocents. Thomas Aquinas, in the 13 th Century, developed the doctrine of Double Effect. Put crudely, it is OK to kill innocents during a conflict providing that (i) you did not intend to do so, or (ii) that killing the innocents was not a means to winning, or (iii) the importance to the defence of your nation is proportionally greater than a number of civilian deaths. The modern equivalent is the Principle of Proportionality which, “… requires that the anticipated loss of life and damage to property incidental to attacks must not be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage expected to be gained”. 8 But we may be about to unleash new weapons that could violate all of these principles. Lethal Autonomous Robots Between four and six thousand robots are currently operating on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are mainly deployed in dull, dirty or dangerous tasks such as disrupting or exploding improvised explosive devices and surveillance in dangerous areas such as caves. There are only three armed Talon SWORDS robots made by Foster-Miller, although more Noel Sharkey is Professor of AI and Robotics and Professor of Public Engagement EPSRC Senior Media Fellow at the University of Sheffield. Here he examines various legal and humanitarian aspects of using autonomous weapons and the issues that these raise. The development most likely to revolutionise war in the 21st Century is the unmanned system. It began with Tesla’s efforts to develop remote-controlled torpedoes in the late 19th Century, 1 but it is only in the last decade that remote controlled (also known as tele-operated) mobile machines have become commonplace in conflict zones. The next big step is to take the human out of the loop with autonomous robot weapons, bringing together the latest advances in technology, navigation and artificial intelligence. The US has published 25-year plans for unmanned aircraft, 2 ground vehicles, 3 and naval vehicles, 4 and a roadmap up until 2032. 5 It is vitally important that the excitement about the new technology and possibilities of risk-free war do not mask the ethical questions that they raise. We must ensure that the evolution of unmanned weapons conforms to basic humanitarian law.
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