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Banning Autonomous Weapon Systems Won’t Solve the Problems the Ban Campaign Thinks It Will

Although much less visible in the United States than in Europe, the campaign to ban “killer robots” has not gone away. If anything, it’s gathering steam in Europe and also at the UN, where it is likely to be taken up following a report by Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns calling, not precisely for a ban, but for a “moratorium.”  The International Coalition for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) has released a letter signed by 270+ “computing scientists” calling for a “ban on the  development and deployment of weapon systems in which the decision to apply violent force is made autonomously.”

One can share the “computing scientists” overall concerns about humanity and accountability in war, however, without thinking that a sweeping, preemptory “ban” is the right way to approach these issues of emerging technology.  Over at The New Republic blog “Security States” (a joint project with the national security law website Lawfare), Matthew Waxman and I have a new post talking about these developments, and explaining why the ban approach to regulating the gradual automation of weapon systems is not likely to be effective, and moreover is deeply mistaken because, if somehow it did take hold, it gives up the potential gains from automation technologies in reducing the harms of war.  This post follows on a policy paper we did for the Hoover Institution a few months ago, Law and Ethics for Autonomous Weapon Systems: Why a Ban Won’t Work and How the Laws of War Can – here is the opening (the piece, title notwithstanding, btw, is actually about weapons and war, not domestic drones):

What if armed drones were not just piloted remotely by humans in far-away bunkers, but they were programmed under certain circumstances to select and fire at some targets entirely on their own? This may sound

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