UNODA Occasional Papers No. 30, November 2017

Perspectives on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems

image of UNODA Occasional Papers No. 30, November 2017

This publication considers lethal autonomous weapon systems, approaching the issue from five different perspectives. It has been published ahead of the first meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons mandated to examine issues related to emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapon systems in the context of the objectives and purposes of the Convention. The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs Occasional Papers are a series of ad hoc publications featuring, in edited form, papers or statements made at meetings, symposiums, seminars, workshops or lectures that deal with topical issues in the field of arms limitation, disarmament and international security.



An ethical perspective on autonomous weapon systems

As designers endow more weapon systems with degrees of autonomy and other characteristics that aim to equal and even surpass human capacities for discernment, serious ethical concerns persist over the possibility of delegating life-and-death decisions to autonomous weapon systems. Responses to such concerns often emphasize a system’s ability or inability to comply with principles of international humanitarian law— distinguishing civilians from military targets while ensuring that harm to the former is in acceptable proportion to the value of the latter—but such analyses regularly fall victim to one of two blind spots: either taking ethical conduct by humans for granted (“humans are ethical, and robots are not”) or giving up on human morality altogether (“humans fail to act ethically, so we need ethical robots”). Rather than addressing the specific characteristics of prospective autonomous weapon systems, this chapter will examine concepts such as the human-machine analogy in considering what ethical principles should inform an inherently human act.


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