From self-driving cars, to digital assistants, artificial intelligence (AI) is fast becoming an integral technology in our lives today. But this same technology that can help to make our day-to-day life easier is also being incorporated into weapons for use in combat situations.
Weaponised AI features heavily in the security strategies of the US, China and Russia. And some existing weapons systems already include autonomous capabilities based on AI, developing weaponised AI further means machines could potentially make decisions to harm and kill people based on their programming, without human intervention.
Countries that back the use of AI weapons claim it allows them to respond to emerging threats at greater than human speed. They also say it reduces the risk to military personnel and increases the ability to hit targets with greater precision. But outsourcing use-of-force decisions to machines violates human dignity. And it’s also incompatible with international law which requires human judgement in context.
Indeed, the role that humans should play in use of force decisions has been an increased area of focus in many United Nations (UN) meetings. And at a recent UN meeting, states agreed that it’s unacceptable on ethical and legal grounds to delegate use-of-force decisions to machines – “without any human control whatsoever”.
But while this may sound like good news, there continues to be major differences in how states define “human control”.
A closer look at different governmental statements shows that many states, including key developers of weaponised AI such as the US and UK, favour what’s known as a distributed perspective of human control.
This is where human control is present across the entire life-cycle of the weapons – from development, to use and at various stages of military decision-making. But while this may sound sensible, it actually leaves a lot of room for human control to become more nebulous.