Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 March 2013
This is a call for the prohibition of autonomous lethal targeting by free-ranging robots. This article will first point out the three main international humanitarian law (IHL)/ethical issues with armed autonomous robots and then move on to discuss a major stumbling block to their evitability: misunderstandings about the limitations of robotic systems and artificial intelligence. This is partly due to a mythical narrative from science fiction and the media, but the real danger is in the language being used by military researchers and others to describe robots and what they can do. The article will look at some anthropomorphic ways that robots have been discussed by the military and then go on to provide a robotics case study in which the language used obfuscates the IHL issues. Finally, the article will look at problems with some of the current legal instruments and suggest a way forward to prohibition.
The title is an allusion to a short story by Isaac Asimov, ‘The evitable conflict’, where ‘evitable’ means capable of being avoided. Evitability means avoidability.
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35 Additional Protocol I. This was not signed by the US.
36 There is a touch of the hat to the idea that there may be ethical issues in the ‘unmanned systems integrated road map 2009–2034’, but no detailed studies of the law or the issues are proposed.
37 United Nations Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects, in force since 2 December 1983 and an annex to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949. I thank David Akerson for discussions on this issue.
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