Maritime Matters

New Technologies Demand New Laws and Ethics

16 Apr, 2018    ·   5457

Dr Vijay Sakhuja argues for the formulation of general legal norms for the development and use of lethal autonomous weapon systems

The Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS) met in Geneva earlier this month and emphasised the critical necessity to ban "fully autonomous weapon systems." They urged states to move towards negotiating a legally binding instrument on this issue. The International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) has positioned issues of ethics and public conscience in the forefront and reiterated the "Principle of Non-Delegation of the Authority to Kill" by non-human mechanisms.

Fully autonomous weapon systems are a product of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) centered on disruptive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), deep machine learning, robots, and drones. These have opened the flood gates to new opportunities in nearly all facets of human activity including warfare. Autonomous and intelligent machines such as robots have brought enormous advantages, freeing human operators from routine and mechanical tasks. These are highly exciting technological advancements; however, there is also the potential for frightening outcomes amid fears that humans are being pushed to the secondary level or even sidelined in the decision-making process. Further, delegating complex tasks including decision-making to devices, sensors and algorithms could potentially engender severe complications.

Warfare is not immune to usage of unmanned systems and devices, and these have found relevance in tasks such as search and rescue, bomb disposal, firefighting, and so on, making warfare and emergency response more efficient and accurate with less collateral damage. Some militaries may be exploring weaponisation of autonomous technologies and it is their belief that soldiers and civilians will be at less risk as also liberating them from any moral consequences of killing or for self-defence.

A number of NGOs have been agitating against the use of LAWS and have called for an international ban on