From the Autonomy Framework towards Networks and Systems Approaches for ‘Autonomous’ Weapons Systems

In: Journal of International Humanitarian Legal Studies
Author: Hin-Yan Liu1
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  • 1 Associate Professor and Coordinator, Artificial Intelligence and Legal Disruption Research Group, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen; Visiting Research Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Otago; Member of the Editorial Board of the Journal,
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The legal debate surrounding the development and deployment of autonomous weapons systems (aws) has stagnated in recent years, having arguably hit the hard limits of legal doctrine. At the heart of this impasse lies the focus upon autonomy as both the innovative and defining feature of aws. Thus, the autonomy of the weapons system places it in a legally liminal zone between agent and object, revealing a set of legal problems that revolve around issues of control, influence, responsibility and liability, and questions of legal compliance that follow from the prospect of autonomous lethal decision-making.

This paper seeks to explore alternative framings to the same underlying technology as a means of escaping the limits imposed by the autonomy framework that has dominated the debate to date, and to examine the consequences that flow from pursuing these approaches from legal and regulatory perspectives. In particular, emphasis is placed upon the networks approach, and the systems approach, which this paper sets out and differentiates from the orthodox emphasis upon autonomy. These alternative approaches suggest that the legal problems arising from the autonomy framing are the easiest set of issues to address, insofar as these frame legal problems, while the networks and systems approaches seem to touch upon legal mysteries to which no ready legal or regulatory responses can be made. Rather than dismiss the network and systems approaches, however, this paper suggests that appropriate, adequate and robust legal and regulatory responses must consider the insights and challenges that these approaches pose, and that pursuing these approaches will lead to powerful converging arguments supporting a moratorium on the deployment of aws.

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