This seminar addresses the morality of using armed and remotely-piloted aircraft (‘drones’) when ‘drone violence’ is conceptualised as violence devolved from humans to artificial intelligence (AI). As governments worldwide plan to incorporate more and better AI technologies into various weapon systems, this is fuelling debate among scholars, diplomats and military professionals about the ethics and governance of so-called ‘lethal autonomous weapon systems’. A critical issue in this debate is whether any system can or should incorporate ethical decision-making by AI, but progress has arguably been inhibited by excessive attention to ‘lethal’ weapons and by confusion over the meaning of ‘autonomous’. In response, the seminar introduces an alternative, differentiated approach to the task of ethically assessing the incorporation of AI, focusing on one kind of weapon system: the armed drone. This approach rejects the notion of artificial moral agency and is based instead upon the emergent principle of ‘meaningful human control’ (MHC). It focuses on the performance (by humans or AI) of ‘critical’ functions within drone systems that might operate in different modes of human-machine interaction to meet different MHC standards. Then, this differentiated approach involves assessing the ethical permissibility of devolving function-performance to AI when drone violence is directed against: human or non-human targets; for different purposes (offensive or defensive); in armed conflict or law enforcement environments.

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Christian Enemark

Christian Enemark is Professor of International Relations in the School of Economic, Social and Political Sciences at the University of Southampton, UK. He completed his PhD at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, and he holds degrees in politics and law from the University of Sydney. Christian is currently Principal Investigator for a major project, on “Emergent Ethics of Drone Violence: Toward a Comprehensive Governance Framework” (DRONETHICS), funded by the European Research Council (grant no. 771082) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. He is also a Co-Investigator for the Trustworthy Autonomous Systems Hub, funded by UK Research and Innovation (grant no. EP/V00784X/1). Previously, Christian was a reader in international politics at Aberystwyth University, and he has held visiting fellowships at the ANU John Curtin School of Medical Research and Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics. His research and teaching interests include global health politics, international security, arms control, and the ethics of war. Christian has published widely, and his latest book (Moralities of Drone Violence) is in production with Edinburgh University Press.

Christian Enemark