The Distraction of Full Autonomy & the Need to Refocus the CCW LAWS Discussion on Critical Functions

21 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2016 Last revised: 23 Dec 2016

See all articles by Chris Jenks

Chris Jenks

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law

Date Written: June 17, 2016

Abstract

The United Nations (UN) Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) discussions on lethal autonomous weapons (LAWS) have been confused, not constructive, and largely for the same definitional reasons identified two years ago. This paper attempts to address why the dialogue at the UN LAWS dialogue has proceeded as it has and proposes how it should proceed at the likely group of government expert meetings in 2017-2018. This paper focuses on the problems created by framing the LAWS discussion in terms of full autonomy and suggests that CCW States Parties refocus on the critical functions of selecting and engaging targets. The full autonomy framework both confuses and distracts – and has driven the dialogue in an unproductive circular direction. To explain why framing the discussion in terms of full autonomy dooms the LAWS discussion to be perpetually circular in nature, Part I of this paper explores the challenges in trying to define and otherwise categorize system autonomy. This includes why distinguishing systems based on whether a human is in/on/out of loop, or whether a system is automated, automatic, or autonomous, is only of minimal, descriptive, utility. Part II then applies the concept of autonomy to weapon systems, focusing first on the reality that weapons systems capable of selecting and engaging targets without further human intervention have existed for decades and then on explaining why full autonomy is a distractor. Part III then emphasizes the need to refocus the LAWS conversation within the purpose of the CCW, following which the paper concludes.

Keywords: Lethal autonomous weapons, LAWS, United Nations, UN, Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, CCW, killer robots, autonomy

Suggested Citation

Jenks, Chris, The Distraction of Full Autonomy & the Need to Refocus the CCW LAWS Discussion on Critical Functions (June 17, 2016). SMU Dedman School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 314. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2797247 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2797247

Chris Jenks (Contact Author)

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 750116
Dallas, TX 75275
United States

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