Automated Warfare


In this Article, I review the military and security uses of robotics and “unmanned” or “uninhabited” (and sometimes “remotely piloted”) vehicles in a number of relevant conflict environments that, in turn, raise issues of law and ethics that bear significantly on both foreign and domestic policy initiatives. My treatment applies to the use of autonomous unmanned platforms in combat and low-intensity international conflict, but also offers guidance for the increased domestic uses of both remotely controlled and fully autonomous unmanned aerial, maritime, and ground systems for immigration control, border surveillance, drug interdiction, and domestic law enforcement. I outline the emerging debate concerning “robot morality” and computational models of moral cognition and examine the implications of this debate for the future reliability, safety, and effectiveness of autonomous systems (whether weaponized or unarmed) that might come to be deployed in both domestic and international conflict situations. Likewise, I discuss attempts by the International Committee on Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) to outlaw or ban the use of autonomous systems that are lethally armed, as well an alternative proposal by the eminent Yale University ethicist, Wendell Wallach, to have lethally armed autonomous systems that might be capable of making targeting decisions independent of any human oversight specifically designated “mala in se” under international law. Following the approach of Marchant, et al., however, I summarize the lessons learned and the areas of provisional consensus reached thus far in this debate in the form of “soft-law” precepts that reflect emergent norms and a growing international consensus regarding the proper use and governance of such weapons.


Stanford University Stanford, California
  • George R. Lucas Jr., Automated Warfare, vol 25 Stanford Law & Policy Review 317 (2014).
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