Debating the Future of Autonomous Weapons Systems

Debating the Future of Autonomous Weapons Systems image
April 14, 2015 | Source: Phys.org

The roles played by autonomous weapons will be discussed at a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, this week which could have far reaching ramifications for the future of war.

The second Expert Meeting on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) will discuss issues surrounding what have been dubbed by some as "killer robots", and whether they ought to be permitted in some capacity or perhaps banned altogether. The discussion falls under the purview of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), which has five protocols already covering non-detectable fragments, mines and booby traps, incendiary weapons, blinding lasers and the explosive remnants of war. Australia and other parties to the CCW will consider policy questions about LAWS and whether there should be a sixth protocol added to the CCW that would regulate or ban LAWS.

There are generally two broad views on the matter:

(1) LAWS should be put in the same category as biological and chemical weapons and comprehensively and pre-emptively banned.

(2) LAWS should put in the same category as precision-guided weapons and regulated.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots (CSKR) argues for a ban on LAWS similar to the ban on blinding lasers in Protocol IV of the CCW and the ban on anti-personnel landmines in the Ottawa Treaty. They argue that killer robots must be stopped before they proliferate and that tasking robots with human destruction is fundamentally immoral.

Others disagree, such as Professor Ron Arkin of Georgia Tech in the US, who argues that robots should be regarded more as the next generation of "smart" bombs.