Later this March, the U.N.’s Group of Governmental Experts will meet to discuss developments and strategies regarding lethal autonomous weapons systems. Here’s what to know in advance.
Autonomous Weapon Systems
As the use of drones has expanded, so too has interest in autonomous weapon systems. Drones, unmanned but remotely piloted, are not themselves autonomous weapons which are characterized by their ability to cut humans “out of the loop.” A 2012 Department of Defense policy directive defines fully autonomous weapon systems as systems that, “once activated, can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human operator.” Similarly, weapons such as “fire-and-forget” missiles, which require no guidance after firing but will hit only targets pre-selected by a human, are sometimes described as “semi-autonomous.” Both semi-autonomous and autonomous weapons systems have triggered concerns that they will increase costs to civilian life in wartime and reduce accountability for war crimes.