Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date

2013

Center/Program

Roger Hertog Program on Law and National Security

Abstract

Public debate is heating up over the future development of autonomous weapon systems. Some concerned critics portray that future, often invoking science-fiction imagery, as a plain choice between a world in which those systems are banned outright and a world of legal void and ethical collapse on the battlefield. Yet an outright ban on autonomous weapon systems, even if it could be made effective, trades whatever risks autonomous weapon systems might pose in war for the real, if less visible, risk of failing to develop forms of automation that might make the use of force more precise and less harmful for civilians caught near it. Grounded in a more realistic assessment of technology — acknowledging what is known and what is yet unknown — as well as the interests of the many international and domestic actors involved, this paper outlines a practical alternative: the gradual evolution of codes of conduct based on traditional legal and ethical principles governing weapons and warfare. This essay revises and significantly extends an earlier, short Policy Review article by Anderson & Waxman from 2012, also posted to SSRN at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2046375, "Law and Ethics for Robot Soldiers."

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