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An examination of the issues surrounding the militarys use of drones in the united states

Over the last few years we have seen a rapid development in the field of drone technology, with an ever-increasing degree of autonomy. While no approved autonomous drone systems are operational, as far as we know, the technology is being tested and developed. Some see the new opportunities and potential benefits of using autonomous drones, others consider the development and use of such technology as inherently immoral.

Influential people like Stephen Hawking, Elon An examination of the issues surrounding the militarys use of drones in the united states and Steve Wozniak have already urged a ban on warfare using autonomous weapons or artificial intelligence.

So, where do we stand, and what are the main legal and ethical issues? Towards autonomous drones As yet, there is no agreed or legal definition of the term "autonomous drones". Generally, most military and aviation authorities call unmanned aerial vehicles "Remotely Piloted Aircraft" RPAs to stress that they fly under the direct control of human operators.

Such drones are programmed with a large number of alternative responses to the different challenges they may meet in performing their mission.

This is not science fiction — the technology is largely developed though, to our knowledge, no approved autonomous drone systems are yet operational. The limiting factor is not the technology but rather the political will to develop or admit to having such politically sensitive technology, which would allow lethal machines to operate without being under the direct control of humans. One of the greatest challenges for the development and approval of aircraft with such technology is that it is extremely difficult to develop satisfactory validation systems, which would ensure that the technology is safe and acts like humans would.

In practice, such sophisticated drones would involve programming for an incredible number of combinations of alternative courses of action, making it impossible to verify and test them to the level we are used to for manned aircraft.

We have no knowledge that we are close to a breakthrough on such technology, but many fear that we actually might be. Autonomous drones — meaning advanced drones programmed with algorithms for countless human-defined courses of action to meet emerging challenges — are already being tested by a number of civilian universities and military research institutions.

Such drones would necessarily operate with a high degree of autonomy. These many developments and aspirations are well described in, for example, the US planning document USAF RPA Vector - Vision and Enabling Concepts 2013-2038 published in 2014, and other documentation and even videos of such research are widely available. The prospects of autonomous technology, be it flying drones, underwater vehicles or other lethal weapon systems, clearly bring new opportunities for military forces.

In the case of flying aircraft, we have learned that there are long lead times in educating pilots and operators.

One of the greatest changes that will come from the development of autonomous drones is that military forces in the near future could develop great fighting power in much shorter timeframes than previously. It is important to note — and many have — that creating the infrastructure and educating ground crew for operating drones is no cheaper or easier than it is to educate aircrew.

However, once in place, the drone crew and operation centres would be able to operate large numbers of drones. Similarly, legacy manned aircraft would be at the centre of a local combat or intelligence system extended with drones serving, for example, in supportive roles for jamming, as weapons-delivery platforms or as a system of multi-sensor platforms. Moving beyond the past limitations of one pilot flying one aircraft or one crew flying one drone to a situation where one crew could control large amounts of drones would quite simply be groundbreaking.

These perspectives for new types of high-tech weapon systems — and the fears they raise — are the background for the research we conducted on autonomous drones and weapon systems. It is almost impossible to assess when these technologies will become widespread — this will depend on the situation and the need of states.

However, the technologies are becoming available and are maturing and we would argue that the difficult discussions on legal and ethical challenges should be dealt with sooner, rather than later.

Drones are cheap

The legal perspectives General rules apply but it is not that simple Autonomous drones, if and when they are used during armed conflict, would be subject to the general principles and rules of the Law of Armed Conflict. In this respect autonomous drones are not to be distinguished from any other weapons, weapon systems or weapon platforms.

Courtesy of Northrop Grumman Some particular features of autonomous drones may, however, challenge the application of the Law of Armed Conflict.

Autonomous drones, regardless of how one ultimately chooses to define them, would be able to operate on their own to a certain degree in time and space. This potential absence of human interference with the weapon or weapon system, during attacks, raises the question of when and where the law requires human presence in the decision cycle.

Before providing some tentative answers to this question, we need to highlight some aspects of the legal requirements incumbent upon commanders during attack decisions.

The use of armed drones must comply with laws

Furthermore, they have to weigh up the relative importance of this advantage compared to the collateral damage anticipated the principle of proportionality. This leeway for discretion is matched with an expectation that the military commander is acting in good faith and assessing the military advantage as well as the collateral damage based on the information reasonably available to him or her at the time.

How do these discretionary notions apply to the use of autonomous drones?

  • The fear is that allowing autonomous drones to make such distinctions would most likely result in civilian casualties and unacceptable collateral damage;
  • Who, then, is accountable?
  • It is difficult to predict the future but the technological potential of autonomous drones is already being tested and developed;
  • There are some 100 U;
  • And since the judgments of machines would not be clouded by emotions such as fear and rage, it could possibly reduce the risk of war crimes that may otherwise have been committed by human soldiers;
  • The key question revolves around how wide a decision cycle is.

How much human touch is required? Autonomous drones are not capable of reasoning in the human sense. They do not possess human consciousness.

  • However, once in place, the drone crew and operation centres would be able to operate large numbers of drones;
  • On the other hand, it could also be argued that using autonomous drones is not just acceptable from a moral perspective but even morally preferable to human soldiers;
  • How much human touch is required?
  • These many developments and aspirations are well described in, for example, the US planning document USAF RPA Vector - Vision and Enabling Concepts 2013-2038 published in 2014, and other documentation and even videos of such research are widely available;
  • In the case of flying aircraft, we have learned that there are long lead times in educating pilots and operators.

So far, autonomous drones or any autonomous system cannot replace the human being within the law. At some point during attack decisions, a human being must decide upon what to attack and how important the target is. The key question revolves around how wide a decision cycle is.

This article is based on research which resulted in a book published in Norwegian in 2016: As with any legal question concerning warfare, the answer is bound to be circumstantial. If the environment is densely populated such as urban areas the limitations must necessarily be tighter than in less populated areas such as on the high seas or under water. Here, as elsewhere, the devil is buried in the details: From law to ethics We must also recognise the relevance of ethics in debates on autonomous drones.

Commercial drones in the U.S.: Privacy, ethics, economics — and journalism

Compliance with the law is central to any military and political policymaking, including the development and use of autonomous drones. Although law and ethics often overlap, there may be important ethical issues at stake, particularly in the case of emerging military technologies, not properly addressed by current law. It may also be important in emphasising when ethical obligations should exceed legal duties in the interest of good political governance.

Ethical perspectives on autonomous drones The delegation of life-and-death decisions to nonhuman agents is a recurring concern of those who oppose autonomous weapons systems.

  • This research paper offers a brief history of UAVs, the results of our canvass of cases that could be categorized as drone journalism, the themes that emerge from this case analysis, and an in-depth look at how this technology impacts on journalism and mass communication;
  • Later, the simple and cost-effective design of the machine gun changed centuries of European military doctrine in just a few years;
  • The limiting factor is not the technology but rather the political will to develop or admit to having such politically sensitive technology, which would allow lethal machines to operate without being under the direct control of humans;
  • It is worth pointing out that not all drones are actually armed and used to fight;
  • Even most military drones are unarmed and used for surveillance, in particular for transmission of information on the location and identification of enemy targets;
  • This research examines the early ethical considerations among drone journalism developers and digital information activists.

From this perspective, human life is of such significant value that it is inappropriate for a machine ever to decide to end a life — in other words, there is something inherently immoral about developing and using autonomous drones.

The fear is that allowing autonomous drones to make such distinctions would most likely result in civilian casualties and unacceptable collateral damage. Even if such weapon systems would be able to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants, it is still a question whether an autonomous drone would be able to assess whether an attack is proportionate or not — that is, whether the attack would cause unnecessary suffering.

However, beyond the uncertainty of what technological capabilities autonomous drones will possess in the future to make such distinctions, one can also argue that if these weapon systems are unable to operate within the requirements of jus in bello it is unlikely that they will be deployed, at least in operational environments where the risk of causing excessive harm on civilians is high.

On the other hand, it could also be argued that using autonomous drones is not just acceptable from a moral perspective but even morally preferable to human soldiers. Autonomous drones would be able to process more incoming sensory information than human soldiers and could therefore make more well-informed decisions.

And since the judgments of machines would not be clouded by emotions such as fear and rage, it could possibly reduce the risk of war crimes that may otherwise have been committed by human soldiers. Using autonomous drones may also improve certain aspects of humanitarian missions, benefiting the civilians who are being assisted and reducing risks to soldiers.

Using autonomous systems to search dangerous areas or perform high-risk tasks, such as bomb disposal or clearing a house, would eliminate the risk of human soldiers being injured or killed. Where do we stand — and where should we go?

Autonomous military drones: no longer science fiction

It is difficult to predict the future but the technological potential of autonomous drones is already being tested and developed. To what extent they will become important military technologies will depend on what the needs of nations will be, which in turn will be determined by the future security situation. It would be better to develop a legal and ethical framework before we come to such a situation. Clearly, autonomous drones raise important judicial and ethical issues about responsibility for unintentional harm.

The technologies create some moral accountability gaps. When autonomous military systems are deployed, it becomes less clear how to apportion responsibility.

And such potential responsibility gaps must be addressed properly through technical solutions and legal regulations. NATO and Allies should therefore engage in international discussions on these topics. At the same time, technological evolution will continue and an autonomous drone — no matter how technologically sophisticated it is designed — remains a product, a tool in the hands of humans.

The article is based on their joint research and recent book published in Norwegian see image. Share this About the Author Co-authors: