Skip navigation

Lethal Autonomous Systems and the Plight of the Non-combatant (Arkin)

In short by Gertrud Maria Vaske

Robotics technology, which many now consider a potential new revolution in military affairs, will play a decisive role in 21st century warfare. Robotic systems are now widely used in the modern battlefield – for intelligence gathering, surveillance, reconnaissance, target acquisition, and engagement. 

In his essay, Prof. Dr. Ronald Arkin points out that increasingly autonomous weapons bring high expectations, such as reducing the number of civilian casualties. It remains to be seen to what extent these new robotic systems are actually capable of adhering to International Humanitarian Law (IHL) just as well as human soldiers, without needing to replicate the full moral faculties of humans. Arkin believes that human atrocities and war crimes could be reduced with unmanned weapons systems. He highlights a number of advantages of robotics technology, which in his opinion could avoid much suffering, stress and misery. He emphasizes its strengths in complex environments, and its superiority over human soldiers in combat.

Nevertheless, Arkin raises the question of responsibility for war crimes. He cites ethical objections such as the potential lowering of the threshold for entry into war, mission creep, negative effects on squad cohesion and motivation, cybersecurity and the danger of misuse if the technology falls into the wrong hands. Hence it is crucially important, he says, that we not rush headlong into the design, development and deployment of these systems without thoroughly examining the consequences on all parties.

Read the Full Article