Ethical Autonomy Project

Information technology is driving rapid increases in the autonomous capabilities of unmanned systems, from self-driving cars to factory robots, and increasingly autonomous unmanned systems will play a significant role in future conflicts as well. The prospect of increased autonomy in weapons systems raises challenging legal, moral, ethical, policy and strategic stability issues. Nation-states and activists in the United States and abroad are already debating how advances in autonomy will influence warfare – and what, if anything, should be done. Activists have launched a “Campaign to Stop Killer Robots,” comprised of 53 non-governmental organizations. In May of 2014, state parties to the United Nations’ Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons held initial discussions on autonomous weapons, and future discussions are likely.

Governments and militaries are only beginning to grapple with how to address the challenges and opportunities associated with increased autonomy. Technology is moving fast in this area. Few states have guidelines on how autonomy should be included in future weapons systems, with the United States a notable exception.

The project on Ethical Autonomy will examine the legal, moral, ethical, policy and strategic stability dimensions of increased autonomy in future weapon systems. The goal of CNAS’ Ethical Autonomy project is to help states, activists, academics and militaries grapple with the challenging issues of autonomy in future weapons. This dialogue is necessary to ensure an appropriate balance between ethical and strategic stability considerations, technological opportunities and future warfighting needs.

20YY Warfare Initiative Director and Senior Fellow Paul Scharre asked experts to examine the future of autonomous weapon systems. View their responses.

Latest Publications

Autonomous Weapons and Operational Risk
By Paul Scharre

20YY Future of Warfare Initiative Director Paul Scharre examines the risks in future autonomous weapons that would choose their own targets and the potential for catastrophic accidents..

 

 

Autonomous Weapons at the UN: A Primer for Delegates
By Paul Scharre, Michael Horowitz, and Kelley Sayler

CNAS experts Paul Scharre, Michael Horowitz, and Kelley Sayler provide a pimer for UN delegates on autuomous weapons.

 

 

Meaningful Human Control in Weapon Systems: A Primer
By Paul Scharre and Michael Horowitz

Adjunct Senior Fellow Michael Horowitz and 20YY Future of Warfare Initiative Director Paul Scharre assess statements made by those advocating for meaningful human control and studied the use of weapons today, which have varying degrees of autonomy.

 

An Introduction to Autonomy in Weapon Systems
By Paul Scharre and Michael Horowitz

In this working paper, Paul Scharre and Michael Horowitz discuss future military systems incorporating greater autonomy.

 

The Ethical Autonomy project is a joint endeavor of the Technology and National Security Program and the 20YY Warfare Initiative, and is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. 

The Ethical Autonomy Project Team

Resources

Bibliography on autonomous weapon systems:

Join the discussion on #autonomousweapons on Twitter.

Online resources on autonomous weapons:

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