UK Signals New Autonomous Weapons Doctrine – But what has become of LAWs Verification Debate?

Tom Hobson

In September 2017, the UK media and a great deal of the international technology and defence press, announced that the UK had laid out a new doctrine in regards to autonomous weaponry. The Guardian reported, on 10th September, that Britain’s military will “commit to ensuring that drones and other remote weaponry are always under human control, as part of a new doctrine designed to calm concerns about the development of killer robots.”[1]

The UK’s announced position on autonomous weaponry was released as part of the August 2017 “Joint Doctrine Publication 0-30.2 – Unmanned Aircraft Systems.”[2] As well as catching the attention of the relatively mainstream press, the document unsurprisingly provoked renewed discussion of the role for autonomous robots in the military, and the feasibility of a potential, pre-emptive ban.

The press framed the Ministry of Defence’s new doctrine as an almost direct response to the August 2017…

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Techno-Utopianism, Coded Ethics and Some Confusion on the Three Laws

Tom Hobson

A recent installment of The Inquiry asked “Can we teach robots ethics”? The discussion in the episode provides some really interesting food for thought. Anyway, it reminded me that, for a while, I’ve wanted to write about something that troubles me in discussions of AI, and particularly military AI uses: The idea that coding ethics is either possible or desirable.

This is a fairly quick stab at the topic, and is mainly framed around Arkin’s Governing Lethal Behaviour from 2008. It’s in no way intended to be an exhaustive treatment of the topic – or indeed, of Arkin’s work… But hopefully, this kind of criticism can generate useful further discussion.

This is Part One. Part Two to follow.

Robert Arkin’s “Governing Lethal Behavior: Embedding Ethics in a Hybrid Deliberative/Reactive Robot Architecture” (Arkin, 2008) is widely regarded as a keystone text in the field of ethics and autonomous military (non)lethal technology…

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“It was the war, the whole bloody war”

Tom Hobson

I’ve written on this subject before (at considerably more length) but I wanted to offer a couple of reflections on responsibility and the “ethical moment” in war…

I recently rewatched the rather brilliant (and long – oh, so very long) The Cruel Sea. In one of the films most iconic scenes, we witness Captain Lockhart racked with guilt having, he believes, caused the unnecessary deaths of a number of sailors. Finding Lockart in this state,  Ericson tells him:

“No one murdered them. It’s the war, the whole bloody war. We’ve got to do these things and say our prayers at the end.”

The scene is generally seen as depicting a typical mix of tragic stoicism and, perhaps unusually, a consciously anti-war sentiment.

There is something else though – a pathology of absolving of responsibility for violences done in wartime. This idea has been explored throughout the history…

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