Faculty Sponsor

Matthew Puffer


Christ College


Humanities, Ethics, Philosophy, Engineering, Psychology

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 4-28-2022


When autonomous weapons systems become operationally superior to alternatives (such as human soldiers), they will be deployed in international warfare. Moral and ethical considerations have not prevented the development and use of new technologies in war historically. The dangers posed by autonomous weapons systems (AWS) are unlikely to deter emboldened illiberal regimes and offer noteworthy military advantages, barring the moral implications of their use. Significant military benefits offered by such weapons virtually require all states to secure investment and development in these platforms. However, AWS represent consequential challenges to conventional ethical frameworks that establish accountability and ensure discriminatory conduct during warfare. AWS are controlled by necessarily opaque software inhibiting our understanding of the system’s capacity to discriminate between civilian, friend, and enemy. Epistemologically, we lack reliable, scientific evidence regarding the accuracy of machine perception, while humans do not understand the statistical learning models of second-generation AI to trust in their autonomous decision-making in the unstructured contemporary combat environment. Artificial intelligence cannot stand trial for war crimes, nor do we have the capacity to assign blame within the chain of command due to accountability gaps. These serious ethical concerns merit deliberation. Thus, it would be prudent to develop novel frameworks to update considerations of jus en bello to account for the possibly destabilizing effects of AWS that exclude humans from decision-making processes. These frameworks would chiefly incorporate a method through which AWS could be proven to be capable of discrimination and an oversight structure for aportioning blame if a lapse occurs.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

Payton Hodson (Senior):

- Majors: Psychology & Spanish, Minor: Humanities, Christ College Scholar

Johnathan Clayton (Junior):

- Major: Mechanical Engineering, Minor: Music, Christ College Scholar

Paul Sennyey (Junior):

- Major: Mechanical Engineering, Christ College Scholar

*Autonomous Weapon Systems are a compelling intersection point between engineering, ethics, philosophy, and psychology. Given the immediate possibilities for adoption of increasingly autonomous weapon systems, we believe this is an issue overlooked and misunderstood by present discourse.