Autonomous weapons and ethical judgments: Experimental evidence on attitudes toward the military use of "killer robots"
Accepted for publication in Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology
30 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2022
Date Written: January 6, 2022
The advent of autonomous weapons brings intriguing opportunities and significant ethical dilemmas. This article examines how increasing weapon autonomy affects approval of military strikes resulting in collateral damage, perception of their ethicality, and blame attribution for civilian fatalities. In our experimental survey of U.S. citizens, we presented participants with scenarios describing a military strike with the employment of weapon systems with different degrees of autonomy. The results show that as weapon autonomy increases, the approval and perception of the ethicality of a military strike decreases. However, the level of blame towards commanders and operators involved in the strike remains constant regardless of the degree of autonomy. Our findings suggest that public attitudes to military strikes are, to an extent, dependent on the level of weapon autonomy. Yet, in the eyes of ordinary citizens, this does not take away the moral responsibility for collateral damage from human entities as the ultimate “moral agents”.
Keywords: autonomous weapons, killer robots, survey experiment, public attitudes
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