Framing the International Discussion on the Weaponization of Increasingly Autonomous Technologies

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Kerstin Vignard, United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research

Framing the International Discussion on the Weaponization of Increasingly Autonomous Technologies

There are a multitude of positive military applications for increasingly autonomous technologies. However, their potential weaponization raises a host of legal, technical, operational and ethical questions. Since 2013, member states of the United Nations have been discussing the weaponization of increasingly autonomous technologies (Lethal Autonomous Robots, Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems, or so-called “killer robots”) in both human rights and arms control fora. Four years in, there is still great division on definitions, how to ensure human control over these future weapon systems, and the appropriate policy responses.

These political discussions are held in the near absence of the technical community. As the rate of technological innovation far outpaces the policy discussion, how might engagement with the technical experts enable international policy-makers to better think, discuss and make informed decisions about increasing autonomy in weapon systems?

Bio: Kerstin Vignard, a dual US-French national, is an international security policy professional with over 20 years’ experience at the United Nations. As Deputy Director and Chief of Operations at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research, she advises the Director on strategic direction and oversees all activities of the Institute.

Since 2013, she has led UNIDIR’s work on the weaponization of increasingly autonomous technologies, which has focused on advancing the multilateral discussion on weaponized autonomy by refining the areas of concern, identifying relevant linkages, and learning from approaches from other domains, including the private sector, that may be of relevance. This work has provided insights and conceptual frameworks to enable international policy-makers to better think, discuss and make informed decisions about autonomy in weapon systems, for example within the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and the UN Human Rights Council. In addition, Vignard has served as consultant to four UN Groups of Governmental Experts on cyber warfare.

Kerstin Vignard, United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research

Framing the International Discussion on the Weaponization of Increasingly Autonomous Technologies

There are a multitude of positive military applications for increasingly autonomous technologies. However, their potential weaponization raises a host of legal, technical, operational and ethical questions. Since 2013, member states of the United Nations have been discussing the weaponization of increasingly autonomous technologies (Lethal Autonomous Robots, Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems, or so-called “killer robots”) in both human rights and arms control fora. Four years in, there is still great division on definitions, how to ensure human control over these future weapon systems, and the appropriate policy responses.

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