University of Bath

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 20193.15pm
24 May 20195.05pm
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. Professor David Galbreath (Dean of the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences) will chair the session, and Dr Jessica Dorsey (University of Amsterdam) will be the discussant.