Autonomous Weapons

The history of humans killing humans is as old as humanity. Perhaps that's why we have long-standing legal frameworks for dealing with such actions in their myriad forms. Our laws define when it is permissible to kill a person—for example in self-defence, or by the authorised use of lethal force in war or in the course of police operations.

But we are unprepared for machines making critical decisions in killing humans. The Science Party has written its Autonomous Weapons policy in order to deal with this reality.

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Image: User heladodementa via pixabay.com

Autonomous capabilities emerged in the 1960s with the advent of heat-seeking missiles. Of course, even this initial form of autonomy in weapons had the ability to misdirect missiles to an unintended target. Among 256 weapons systems with autonomous features identified as of 2015, homing capabilities (the ability to follow a pre-identified target) have remained the most common autonomous function. Navigation (the ability to move to a designated place) is the next most common autonomous ability, followed target acquisition (Roff, H. Personal communication, 15 July 2018).

Further discussion of this dataset can be found here.

"Target acquisition" is exactly what it sounds like. We are now half a century into an age where artificial intelligence chooses targets for the use of lethal force, and yet we are without a global convention on the use of these weapons.

This means we are ill-equipped to deal with the possibility of a poorly-trained AI that commits what would be judged war crimes if carried out by a human.

It might be tempting to simply blame the machine, but taking the approach of removing humans from this control structure allows for unprecendented abuse by national powers. It must be clear who is responsible for every single state-sanctioned death.

A human must be part of the equation when dealing with death. Death is (to date) a core part of the human experience and our intimate relationship with it gives us an authority over death that an algorithm cannot match.

 

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