Are autonomous weapons a source of dehumanization?

A two-day conference on the topic of autonomous weapons systems was hosted by the Austrian government, where military technology experts and delegates from 143 countries gathered to discuss the impact of these weapons and the urgent need to regulate them.

Autonomous weapons have a tendency for dehumanization

During the conference, experts talked in detail about the moral, legal, humanitarian, and ethical challenges that have emerged from weapons powered by artificial intelligence, along with the most important aspect of their effect on the dignity of humans. Experts argue that the use of AI weapons will dehumanize both the target and the operator.

Stressing the need for regulating this side of military operations, the hosting Austrian Foreign Minister, Alexander Schallenberg, said,

“We cannot let this moment pass without taking action. Now is the time to agree on international rules and norms to ensure human control.”

With the background that talks on the use of these weapons have almost stalled on a global level, the experts also discussed the subject of whether we could have proper control over the use of autonomous weapons because of the fact that these weapons are faulty with immature technology that has its own biases and the fact that it accelerates the firepower beyond human perception. As Schallenberg said,

“At least let us make sure that the most profound and far-reaching decision, who lives and who dies, remains in the hands of humans and not of machines.”

Source: Reuters.

Violence will increase with the deployment of automated systems

A researcher from the Center for Military Studies in Copenhagen, Neil Renic, highlighted his efforts surrounding the ethical issues with autonomous weapons and said that the most pressing challenge of these weapons is their capability to intensify the capacity of violence that is already present, as reported by Sebastian Klovig Skelton of Computer Weekly. Neil said,

“Autonomous weapons and the systematic killing they’ll enable and accelerate are likely to pressure human dignity in two different ways, firstly by incentivizing a moral devaluation of the targeted.”

Source: Sebastian Klovig Skelton.

None of the speakers at the conference favored the idea that autonomous weapons should have the authority to select targets solely on their own. The executive president of the International Center of Artificial Intelligence in Morocco, Amal El Fallah Seghrouchni, highlighted virtuality and velocity as dual problems. 

She said that the outcomes of the deployment of autonomous weapons are not observable, as if an operator is present in the field, and the physical distance between the weapon operator and the war theater, combined with the speed with which the decisions are made, imposes a lack of awareness in operators.

He also noted that broad targeting due to the extreme systematization of human beings under these systems will also increase, adding that depersonalization will lead to the erosion of basic human rights and dignity of the targeted individuals. The history of systematic killing already proves its effects.