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.

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  • 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 author of the forthcoming book, A...

  • Kelley Sayler

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