Autonomous Weapon Systems

As the use of drones has expanded, so too has interest in autonomous weapon systems. Drones, unmanned but remotely piloted, are not themselves autonomous weapons which are characterized by their ability to cut humans “out of the loop.” A 2012 Department of Defense policy directive defines fully autonomous weapon systems as systems that, “once activated, can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human operator.” Similarly, weapons such as “fire-and-forget” missiles, which require no guidance after firing but will hit only targets pre-selected by a human, are sometimes described as “semi-autonomous.” Both semi-autonomous and autonomous weapons systems have triggered concerns that they will increase costs to civilian life in wartime and reduce accountability for war crimes.

Latest in Autonomous Weapon Systems

Autonomous Weapon Systems

Accountability for Algorithmic Autonomy in War

 A recently-published briefing report from the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict, devises the new concept of "war algorithms" to describe any algorithm expressed in computer code, effectuated through a constructed system, and capable of operating in relation to armed conflict.


Readings: Adapting the Law of Armed Conflict to Autonomous Weapon Systems

We are pleased to share our recently published article on law and autonomous weapons, on which we teamed up with our good friend Daniel Reisner (formerly head of the Israel Defense Forces International Law Department). The article, “Adapting the Law of Armed Conflict to Autonomous Weapon Systems,” appears as 90 International Law Studies 386 (2014), available online at SSRN (free pdf download).


Readings: The Diffusion of Drone Warfare: Industrial, Infrastructural and Organizational Constraints by Andrea Gilli and Mauro Gilli

Political science graduate students Andrea Gilli (European Union Institute, Florence) and Mauro Gilli (Northwestern University, Evanston) have posted a new and provocative paper to SSRN--"The Diffusion of Drone Warfare: Industrial, Infrastructural and Organizational Constraints."

Targeted Killing: Drones

Reflections on the Chatham House Autonomy Conference

Chatham House recently held a conference on autonomous military technologies, the focus of which was really the current debate regarding autonomous weapon systems. Kudos to Chatham House for leaning forward in this critical area and for bringing together the right mix of people for an engaging and productive conference.

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