January 26, 2018

Autonomous weapons are a game-changer

Featuring Paul Scharre

Source: The Economist

MANY OF THE trends in warfare that this special report has identified, although worrying, are at least within human experience. Great-power competition may be making a comeback. The attempt of revisionist powers to achieve their ends by using hybrid warfare in the grey zone is taking new forms. But there is nothing new about big countries bending smaller neighbours to their will without invading them. The prospect of nascent technologies contributing to instability between nuclear-armed adversaries is not reassuring, but past arms-control agreements suggest possible ways of reducing the risk of escalation.

The fast-approaching revolution in military robotics is in a different league. It poses daunting ethical, legal, policy and practical problems, potentially creating dangers of an entirely new and, some think, existential kind. Concern has been growing for some time. Discussions about lethal autonomous weapons (LAWs) have been held at the UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), which prohibits or restricts some weapons deemed to cause unjustifiable suffering. A meeting of the CCW in November brought together a group of government experts and NGOs from the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which wants a legally binding international treaty banning LAWs, just as cluster munitions, landmines and blinding lasers have been banned in the past.

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  • Paul Scharre

    Vice President and Director of Studies

    Paul Scharre is the Vice President and Director of Studies at CNAS. He is the award-winning author of Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. His firs...