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Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag

26.10.2020 | Publication

Autonomous weapon systems

Not so long ago, robotic weapons systems that can select and engage targets without any human intervention could be found exclusively in the domain of science fiction. Due to technological progress made in recent years in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence, this idea of autonomously acting weapons now is standing on the edge of being actually realised.

Within the framework of the TA project a broad analytical approach has been followed and a wide range of aspects regarding the topic have been examined. TAB's policy brief in English TAB-Fokus no. 26 PDF [3,00 MB] summarizes the key results of the TA project and provides an overview of technological developments, security policy implications, ethical arguments and issues in humanitarian law.

Summary
  • Robotic weapons systems that can select and engage targets without any human intervention are standing on the edge of being tangibly implemented.
  • Proponents of this development expect decisive military and possibly even humanitarian benefits from such autonomous weapons systems.
  • Critics, however, raise concerns over whether it would be ethically justifiable, politically responsible and legally allowed in compliance with (international) law to delegate the decision on the life and death of human beings to machines.
  • Moreover, the development and possible use of AWS might entail some risks with regard to security policy.

For the full report TAB-Arbeitsbericht Nr. 187, published after acceptance by the German Bundestag, please visit the German project page.

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