The development of new Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the military domain is speeding up the weaponry revolution, providing the armed forces with brand-new technological equipment. In recent years, governments all around the globe invested billions in research projects to enhance their armed forces’ combat capabilities through the development of AI, including Autonomous Weapons System (AWS).
Since armies began deploying robotic armaments, there has been a heated debate over their benefits and detriments. In this regard, on December 15, 2020, the Finabel Permanent Secretariat hosted a webinar dedicated to “Autonomous Systems: The Future of Warfare?”, to analyse the opportunities, challenges and the overall trend of AWS. Relevant experts attended the conference, including General Riho Terras ( Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Milrem Robotics, Member of the European Parliament and former Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces), Professor Lode Lauwaert (Institute of Philosophy, KU Leuven) and Nicholas Nelson (Senior Technology Advisor at Georgia Tech Research Institute).
The guests highlighted how technological evolution would play a decisive role in shaping future warfare and they discussed trend changes from military, academic and industrial perspectives. The employment of AWS arose concerns regarding its ethical implications, including principles of humanity and the servicepeople involvement (“in the loop”, “on the loop” or “out of the loop”).
The ethical debate over AI and AWS goes together with the legal implications of their usage, as there is a lack of specific international conventions that regulate autonomous technologies (Finabel, 2020).
On the one hand, the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), which aims to protect civilians and combatants by regulating and prohibiting the use of some conventional weapons, does not include AWS yet. Starting in 2014, the 125 countries that endorsed the CCW began the talks to regulate the use of AWS; however, as far as 2019, no formal agreement was reached as some nations refused the CCW proposals (Human Rights Watch, 2020). States decided to postpone the meetings between 2020 and 2021 and to resume negotiation dialogues focusing on the “development of aspects of the normative and operational framework on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems” (United Nations, 2019). However, the COVID-19 global pandemic abruptly interrupted negotiations, leaving AWS without formal and binding regulations.
On the other hand, the European Union is taking steps to regulate AI and its utilisation. As a matter of fact, in September the European Parliament constituted a new Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence in a Digital Age (AIDA) to support the development of AI (and the related industries and business) while safeguarding the respect of human rights (European Parliament 2020).
The European Union aims to be a global leader in developing AI sustainably. The European Parliament became one of the first institutions to suggest formal recommendations that should regulate the use of AI and safeguard human rights, in terms of ethics, accountability and intellectual property (European Parliament, 2020).
In this regard, the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) took a legislative initiative encouraging the European Commission to prepare a legal framework that delineates ethical principles and essential requirements “to be followed when developing, deploying and using artificial intelligence” (European Parliament, 2020). On December 12, 2020, the Committee on Legal Affairs adopted new guidelines on AI to take the preparatory steps for a legal framework. The European Commission is expected to present a legislative proposal in early 2021.
As regards the military domain, the Members of the European Parliament (MEP) reiterated the need for regulations that safeguard human rights and dignity. MEP also concurred AWS should only be used in desperate circumstances, and that individuals should always be in control, being able to disable the AWS’ action if necessary, thus holding human beings accountable for the AI’s deeds (European Parliament, 2020).
These new guidelines finally give some answers to fundamental issues related to the use of AI. At the same time, they push forward the European Union’s role as a guiding body concerning the regulation of AI’s military use, aiming to cooperate with the United Nations and the international community (European Parliament, 2020).
Written by Luca DILDA, Researcher at Finabel – European Army Interoperability Centre
European Parliament (2020) New committee on Artificial Intelligence begins its work Retrieved December 17 2020 from https://bit.ly/38i3AhZ
European Parliament (2020) Parliament leads the way on first set of EU rules for Artificial Intelligence Retrieved December 17 2020 from https://bit.ly/38uQ2jF
Finabel (2020) The Future of Biosensors in European Defence. Finabel Times, (Nr°02/2020), 30-40
Human Rights Watch (2020) Stopping Killer Robots Country Positions on Banning Fully Autonomous Weapons and Retaining Human Control (pp. 1-8) United States of America: Human Rights Watch Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2Wo3jEO
United Nations (2019) Meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (p. 5) Geneva Retrieved December 17 2020 from https://bit.ly/3muUvri