Autonomous Weapons and Human Dignity
by Dan Saxon
Lethal autonomous weapons are weapon systems that can select and destroy targets without intervention by a human operator. Fighting Machines explores the relationship between lethal autonomous weapons (LAWS), the concept of human dignity, and international law. Much of this analysis speaks to three fundamental and related problems: When a LAWS takes a human life, is that killing a violation of human dignity? Can states and non-state actors use LAWS in accordance with international law? And are there certain responsibilities of human decision-making during wartime that we should not delegate to machines?
In the book, Dan Saxon argues that the use of LAWS to take human life constitutes a violation of human dignity. Rather than concentrating on the victims of the use of lethal force, Saxon instead focuses on the technology and relevant legal principles and rules to advance several propositions. First, as LAWS operate at increasingly greater speeds, their use will undermine the opportunities for, and the value of, human reasoning and judgment. Second, by transferring responsibility for reasoning and judgment about the use of lethal force to computer software, the use of LAWS violates the dignity of the soldiers, commanders, and law enforcement officers who historically have made such decisions, and, therefore, breaches international law. Third, weapon designs that facilitate teamwork between humans and autonomous systems are necessary to ensure that humans and LAWS can operate interdependently so that individuals can fulfil their obligations under international law—including the preservation of their own dignity—and ensure that human reasoning and judgment are available for cognitive functions better suited to humans than machines.
Fighting Machines speaks to the fields of international humanitarian law, human rights, criminal law, and legal philosophy. It will also be of interest to non-lawyers, especially military officers, government policy makers, political scientists, and international relations scholars, as well as roboticists and ethicists.
"Lethal autonomous weapons systems – ‘killer robots’ — are no longer the stuff of science fiction. Their champions argue that taking targeting decisions out of the hands of fallible humans will save lives in wartime. In this powerful and rigorously reasoned critique, legal expert Dan Saxon warns that very soon the speed and complexity of the weapons will make it impossible to keep human decision makers in the loop. The result is a disastrous loss of responsibility – and responsibility lies at the heart of war fighters’ human dignity and capacity for empathy. This is the best book I know on the law and morality of autonomous weapons systems."—David Luban, Georgetown University Law Center
"Essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the moral and legal challenges posed by the use of lethal autonomous weapons. Saxon adeptly traverses multiple bodies of law to examine how such weapons will erode moral agency, human dignity, and international law."—Sarah Knuckey, Columbia Law School