Skip to main content

Ethics for Military Engineering: Voluntary protocols for lethal autonomous weapons systems

In this session, Professor George R Lucas Jr will debate whether (and how) lethal autonomous weapons can be regulated and developed from an ethical standpoint.

  • 24 May 2019, 3.15pm to 24 May 2019, 5.05pm BST (GMT +01:00)
  • 4 East, 3.10, University of Bath
  • This event is free
Military drone rocket attack above desert
This keynote is part of the 2nd TRANSAD conference

Despite valiant efforts by organisations like the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC), the prospects for increased legal or regulatory control (domestic or international) of autonomous weapons systems (AWS) appears unlikely at present.

The extant domestic and international legal regimes governing military robotics in all its then-current and near-term prospective forms was thoroughly reviewed and analysed by an international panel of experts in the Columbia Science and Technology Law Review in 2012, and revealed a loose and somewhat disjointed body of black-letter law applicable to AWS.

More recent years of discussions and debates on robotics and prospects of increasing degrees of autonomy enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) have not produced any notable progress or revisions in black letter law. Nations participating in the concealed carry weapons (CCW) process have regularly and diligently considered a wide range of expert testimony on the risks inherent in these weapons, as well as the prospects for keeping them under suitable control to ensure safety and reliability, but have been unable to come to any substantive agreement on modifications that might be made to existing international law to accommodate these risks.

Professor George R Lucas Jr will argue that 'soft-law' approaches and applicable codes of responsible conduct, focusing on the emergence of relevant norms for both individual and state behaviour, and directed toward the autonomy and accountability individual members of the community directly involved in AWS, offer a far better prospect for success in governance and risk reduction than do the persistent efforts at international legal reform.

This keynote is part of the 2nd Transnational Academic Network for the Study of Armed Drones (TRANSAD) conference. The session will be chaired by Professor David Galbreath, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences.

Speaker profiles

Professor George R Lucas Jr is the distinguished Chair in Ethics Emeritus at the US Naval Academy, and Professor Emeritus of Ethics and Public Policy at the Graduate School of Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

His main areas of interest are applied moral philosophy and military ethics, and he has written on such topics as irregular and hybrid warfare, cyber conflict, military and professional ethics, and ethical challenges of emerging military technologies.

Lucas is the author of six books, more than 60 peer-reviewed journal articles, translations, and book reviews, and has also edited 10 book-length collections of articles in philosophy and ethics. Among these titles are Ethics and Cyber Warfare (OUP, 2017), Military Ethics: What Everyone Needs to Know (OUP, 2016), and The Routledge Handbook of Military Ethics (Routledge, 2015).


This room has lift access.


4 East, 3.10 University of Bath Claverton Down Bath BA2 7AY United Kingdom


If you have any questions, please contact us.