Potential and Peril

Communications of the ACM 

The history of battle knows no bounds, with weapons of destruction evolving from prehistoric clubs, axes, and spears to bombs, drones, missiles, landmines, and systems used in biological and nuclear warfare. More recently, lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS) powered by artificial intelligence (AI) have begun to surface, raising ethical issues about the use of AI and causing disagreement on whether such weapons should be banned in line with international humanitarian laws under the Geneva Convention. Much of the disagreement around LAWS is based on where the line should be drawn between weapons with limited human control and autonomous weapons, and differences of opinion on whether more or less people will lose their lives as a result of the implementation of LAWS. There are also contrary views on whether autonomous weapons are already in play on the battlefield. Ronald Arkin, Regents' Professor and Director of the Mobile Robot Laboratory in the College of Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology, says limited autonomy is already present in weapon systems such as the U.S. Navy's Phalanx Close-In Weapons System, which is designed to identify and fire at incoming missiles or threatening aircraft, and Israel's Harpy system, a fire-and-forget weapon designed to detect, attack, and destroy radar emitters.