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Harvard KSG on 'Unmanned and Robotic Warfare'

Today, the Harvard Kennedy School of Government released a summary of its June 2008 executive session on "Unamnned and Robotic Warfare: Issues, Options, And Futures." The session brought together experts from across the public and private sectors to discuss many of the same questions we are addressing in this symposium, and as such the report will be of interest to participants and readers alike.

Of particular interest to those focusing on the areas of rules governing autonomous robots, and targeted killings, will be the section on Ethics and Accountability. The report states:

Accountability is a desired future capability of unmanned systems. The human in that system will continue to be the key factor, especially in weaponized systems with the capacity to kill. We will be unable to detach ourselves from that decision-making, and very likely would not want to. Our current allocation schemes of responsibility seem likely to work with unmanned systems. However, unmanned systems add complexity. With proper design and development they can also resolve it.

Is it a reasonable expectation that humans will always remain in the loop? Researchers have already shown how to remove humans from the navigational decision process, and as Peter described in his book, automated robotic guns are already being used to defend bases in Iraq. Do these statements appear to be disconnected from the reality of autonomous robot development?

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Reader Comments (1)

Yes. Absolutely. The Navy’s Phalanx system has been making autonomous targeting decisions as a night sentry on board seagoing vessels for years. Similar land based systems are already deployed not just by the US but by South Korea and Israel.

One of the most interesting things I felt Singer touched on was the desperate need by the US security establishment to maintain a discourse that humans were in the loop, even while efforts to take them out entirely proceed apace through the back door. I am finding this discourse in my interviews with the human security community as well. But I wasn’t quite satisfied with Singer’s explanation of it. There is something interesting here sociologically, but I’m not quite sure what it is.

Apr 2, 2009 at 5:52 | Unregistered CommenterCharli Carpenter

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