Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Killer Robots at ANU

Greetings from the Australian National University Law School, where Dr Jeremy Moses from University of Canterbury is talking on "Lethal Autonomous Weapons and Bias". He pointed out these may be called "killer robots", Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), Autonomous Weapons Systems (AWS), Robotic and autonomous systems (RAS), or Lethal autonomous robots (LAR). Dr Moses pointed out some Australian projects, including un-crewed trucks which follow others, and small surveillance sailing shops. These sounds benign, but then he pointed to the "Ghost Bat" autonomous aircraft for the RAAF, and "Ghost Shark" autonomous robotic undersea warfare vehicle will be armed. 

Dr Moses referred to the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which called for international law in 2012. He commented that little progress has been made since then, not just because states who want to use them are not keen to advance regulation. But he argued that it was likely that someone would be held responsible for the use of autonomous weapons. There is still concern that this may make war more likely, both by states, and non-state actors, or the robots may run amok. But I would be much more worried about deliberate misuse, than accidents.

Dr Moses pointed out that biases have been found it what otherwise were claimed to be unbiased automated systems. Also the ethics of the use of weapons varies between people.

Anduril Dive-LD Ghost Shark XL-AUV, 
made in Sydney

I have suggested that Australian universities should assist in the development of military drones. Some of my students worked on part of an anti-missile system, which has a automatic mode. This is not an advanced AI system, and would be under supervision of human operators, but does raise ethical questions.

Dr Moses argues that arguments from other aspects of the use of AI may not be applicable to warfare. This is because the campaigners are essentially campaigning against war in general, rather than the use of particular weapons. As examples, he argued that opposition to imperialism, or discrimination against particular groups, were not relevant to autonomous weapons, as imperialism and discrimination can happen without them. I am not so sure. Autonomous weapons may be particularity useful for oppression, and limiting or banning them may be appropriate. Of course such weapons may already be banned under existing international law.

An aspect which troubled me was that Dr Moses, and other lawyers in the room assumed that they had years to consider these issues. However, there is now the capability to mass produce cheap autonomous weapons. Shoulder launched missiles, in disposable canisters can be made with a cheap image sensor, and enough processing power to discriminate between different targets. 

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