The Defense Ethics Committee has just published its opinion on the integration of the autonomy of lethal weapons systems. This is the second subject he tackles after that of the augmented soldier. It should be remembered that it was created in 2019 at the instigation of the Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly, in order to assess the ethical issues of new technologies.
Its conclusions are apparently clear. There is no question of authorizing “killer robots” in France. This term refers to SALA (Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems). This only confirms the position of our country for several years on the subject. But things are complex, and the ethics committee delivers a nuanced report.
Weapons that remain under human control
This body therefore sees no objection to the introduction of a certain dose of autonomy and therefore recourse to SALIA (lethal weapon systems incorporating autonomy). What would distinguish SALA from SALIA, ” it’s a difference of nature which takes the place of humans in certain critical functions Can we read in the report.
SALA was designed to change its own operating rules and redefine its mission on its own. There is thus no need for the assessment of the situation by the command.
SALIA can be assigned the responsibility and execution of certain tasks autonomously but temporarily and only for identification, classification, interception or engagement missions.
The ethics committee makes it clear that it cannot take lethal initiatives without human control. Even within this restrictive framework, it would be a question of establishing technical and organizational guarantees to prevent any overflow.
Killer robots would become a subject of research
The committee believes, however, that research should continue in the areas of artificial defense intelligence and automatisms in weapon systems. The goal would be to avoid all “Scientific and technical dropout”, to fight against the development of SALA by an adversary, and, finally, to defend against this type of weapon in the event that an adversary would resort to them.
We are now awaiting the official reaction of the Minister of the Armed Forces, who must examine the text carefully with her teams before any communication. There is no doubt that associations for the defense of freedoms will also come forward. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have long advocated for the outright ban of lethal autonomous weapon systems. A perspective that France has always dismissed.
Source: Opinion of the Defense Ethics Committee