War-Algorithm Accountability

244 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2016

See all articles by Dustin A. Lewis

Dustin A. Lewis

Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict (HLS PILAC)

Gabriella Blum

Harvard Law School

Naz K. Modirzadeh

HLS Program on International Law and Armed Conflict

Date Written: August 31, 2016

Abstract

In this briefing report, we introduce a new concept — war algorithms — that elevates algorithmically-derived “choices” and “decisions” to a, and perhaps the, central concern regarding technical autonomy in war. We thereby aim to shed light on and recast the discussion regarding “autonomous weapon systems.”

We define “war algorithm” as any algorithm that is expressed in computer code, that is effectuated through a constructed system, and that is capable of operating in relation to armed conflict. In introducing this concept, our foundational technological concern is the capability of a constructed system, without further human intervention, to help make and effectuate a “decision” or “choice” of a war algorithm. Distilled, the two core ingredients are an algorithm expressed in computer code and a suitably capable constructed system.

Through that lens, we link international law and related accountability architectures to relevant technologies. We sketch a three-part (non-exhaustive) approach that highlights traditional and unconventional accountability avenues. We focus largely on international law because it is the only normative regime that purports — in key respects but with important caveats — to be both universal and uniform. By not limiting our inquiry only to weapon systems, we take an expansive view, showing how the broad concept of war algorithms might be susceptible to regulation — and how those algorithms might already fit within the existing regulatory system established by international law.

Keywords: armed conflict, algorithm, autonomous weapons, accountability, international law, war algorithm

Suggested Citation

Lewis, Dustin A. and Blum, Gabriella and Modirzadeh, Naz K., War-Algorithm Accountability (August 31, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2832734 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2832734

Dustin A. Lewis (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict (HLS PILAC) ( email )

Langdell 175-J
1545 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

HOME PAGE: http://pilac.law.harvard.edu/dustin-a-lewis

Gabriella Blum

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Naz K. Modirzadeh

HLS Program on International Law and Armed Conflict ( email )

1545 Massachusetts Avenue
Langdell 175-J
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
1,493
Abstract Views
5,272
rank
11,779
PlumX Metrics