April 07, 2016

Autonomous Weapons and Human Control

By Paul Scharre and Kelley Sayler

Nations from around the world met at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland to discuss autonomous weapons, potential future weapons that would select and engage targets on their own. Ensuring “meaningful human control” over future weapons has been a topic of much debate, with some human rights activists advocating for a preemptive ban. Increasing autonomy in weapons raises the question of how much human involvement is required in lethal attacks.

In this brief, Scharre and Sayler explain how autonomy is already used in many weapons today and how future fully autonomous weapons would be different. Autonomous weapons would be programmed by humans and launched by a human. Once launched, however, the weapon would have the freedom to select its own targets over a wide area according to preprogramed parameters, raising new legal, ethical, and safety questions.

The report is available online.

Download PDF

Authors

  • Paul Scharre

    Senior Fellow and Director, Technology and National Security Program

    Paul Scharre is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. He is the award-winning author of Army ...

  • Kelley Sayler

    Kelley Sayler is a former Associate Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), where she worked with the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program and the ...

  • Podcast
    • March 12, 2019
    CNAS Tech: How (Not) to Talk About AI & Lethality

    The U.S. Army recently announced its new Advanced Targeting & Lethality Automated System, or ATLAS program. The announcement generated concern and media headlines about the le...

    By Paul Scharre, Kara Frederick & Megan Lamberth

  • Video
    • September 18, 2018
    Will WWIII Be Fought By Robots?

    What will autonomous weapons mean for how future wars are waged and the loss of human lives in armed conflicts? That's the topic of a new book, Army of None: Autonomous Weapon...

    By Paul Scharre

  • Commentary
    • Foreign Policy
    • September 13, 2018
    A Million Mistakes a Second

    Militaries around the globe are racing to build ever more autonomous drones, missiles, and cyberweapons. Greater autonomy allows for faster reactions on the battlefield, an ad...

    By Paul Scharre

  • Commentary
    • NBC News
    • August 7, 2018
    Six arrested after Venezuelan president dodges apparent assassination attempt

    Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was speaking at a military event when a drone carrying plastic explosives detonated on Saturday. CNAS Technology and National Security Dire...

    By Paul Scharre

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia