Author: Sean Welsh

In Defence of Combat Robots

Next week in Geneva, diplomats will assemble to discuss Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS). The precise definition of LAWS is contested but the Pentagon speaks of “weapons that once activated can select and engage targets without further human intervention.” Activists striving for a ban on LAWS call them ‘killer robots,’ language some find emotive but which is nevertheless useful for grabbing headlines. To illustrate, Disney/Lucasfilm’s K2SO is a ‘killer robot’ as is R2D2. In the Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One, K2SO—a reprogrammed Imperial droid fighting for the Rebel Alliance—kills about a dozen Imperial Stormtroopers with a grenade, a blaster, and his bare robot hands. More pertinently, existing systems like Aegis and Patriot running in ‘auto-fire’ mode also qualify as LAWS under the Pentagon’s definition.  Unsurprisingly, nations fielding Aegis and Patriot think that banning LAWS would be premature. Some analysts have suggested that we drop the word ‘lethal’ and speak instead of non-lethal as well as lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (AWS). In what follows I will discuss AWS or ‘combat robots’ that can deter, capture, wound, or kill. A …