Autonomous Weapons Systems: A Coming Legal 'Singularity'?

38 Pages Posted: 15 May 2012 Last revised: 3 Jul 2014

See all articles by Benjamin Kastan

Benjamin Kastan

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: April 10, 2012


Military robotics has long captured the popular imagination in movies, books and magazines. In recent years, this technology has moved from the realm of science fiction to reality. The precursors to truly autonomous weapons, the so-called “drones,” have generated a great deal of discussion. Few authors, however, have applied current law to the developing technology of autonomous military robots, or “autonomous weapon systems.” The treatment of such subjects in the ethics, robotics, and popular literature has generally assumed that autonomous systems either fit perfectly into existing legal regimes or threaten long-standing paradigms. This article demonstrates that neither assumption is correct. Rather, the introduction of autonomous military robots will require adapting well-established legal principles in the law of war as well as domestic accountability mechanisms to this new technology. A key adjustment that must be made is the introduction of a military-created standard for operation of autonomous systems. This standard will set how such robotic systems may be used in accordance with the law of war. The establishment of such a standard operating procedure would also address accountability concerns by helping to establish a standard of care below which liability may be imposed on the human commanders of autonomous military robots.

Keywords: autonomous weapon, robot, command responsibility, law of war

Suggested Citation

Kastan, Benjamin, Autonomous Weapons Systems: A Coming Legal 'Singularity'? (April 10, 2012). 2013 Journal of Law, Technology and Policy 45 (2013). Available at SSRN:

Benjamin Kastan (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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