Autonomous weapons technologies, which rely on artificial intelligence, are advancing rapidly and without sufficient public debate or accountability. Oversight of increased autonomy in warfare is critically important because this deadly technology is likely to proliferate rapidly, enhance terrorist tactics, empower authoritarian rulers, undermine democratic peace, and is vulnerable to bias, hacking, and malfunction. The top competitors in this arms race are the United States, China, Russia, South Korea, and the European Union.
As United Nations member states have made little progress in discussions of lethal autonomous weapons systems (AWS) over the last 5 years, the nature of warfare is transforming before our eyes. This change is occurring without proper accountability or public scrutiny as a handful of countries continue to make massive investments in increasing the autonomy of their weapons systems paired with advanced artificial intelligence (AI). Greater debate is urgently needed as lethal AWS are likely to proliferate rapidly, enhance terrorist tactics, empower authoritarian rulers, undermine democratic peace, and are vulnerable to bias, hacking, and malfunction. A proper public debate concerning the ramifications of ‘killer robots’ should start in earnest.
Technological advances in autonomy are often incremental and come with a low political profile. Autonomy is being added to different parts of existing weapons systems and meaningful human control, from target planning to mission execution, will be gradually lost without proper consideration of the moral dilemmas it raises (Roff, 2014; Sharkey, 2017; Schwarz, 2018). This widely unaccounted for development of AWS is taking place as the worldwide market is expanding rapidly. Global military spending on AWS and AI, narrowly defined, is projected to reach $16 and $18 billon respectively by 2025 (Sander and Meldon, 2014; Research and Markets, 2018).
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