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Volume 26 • Number 2

April 2012



Between Berserksgang and the Autonomous Weapons Systems

by Anton Petrenko

[T]hey howled as wild animals, bit the edge of their shields, and cut down
everything they met, without discriminating between friend or foe.
                    —Frederik Christian Schübeler, Viridarium Norvegicum

Over the last ten years, the use of artificial intelligence in military technologies has become widespread, and the application of autonomous weapons systems (AWS) in warfare has become firmly entrenched. Although currently deployed AWS are built to require human control and supervision, robotic systems capable of making decisions about lethal deployment of force are imminent. The prospect of employing such systems gives rise to a number of moral criticisms—from the conflict proliferation arguments, to arguments from precaution, the lack of moral accountability, and inadequate target discrimination. After briefly reviewing the state of experimental research in military artificial intelligence, this paper will address the moral criticisms of fully autonomous weapons systems. It will be argued that given certain advances, the use of AWS is not only morally permissible but obligatory.

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© 2012 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
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Public Affairs Quarterly is published by the University of Illinois Press on behalf of North American Philosophical Publications.

ISSN: 2152-0542