Defense Ethics Committee publishes report on integrating autonomy into lethal weapon systems

In 2019, France set up a Defense Ethics Committee (it was officially installed on January 10, 2020), a permanent reflection structure on the ethical issues of new technologies in the field of defense.

After the publication of its first work on the augmented soldier, the Defense Ethics Committee has just delivered its opinion on the integration of autonomy into lethal weapon systems. This report is available for consultation here.

To sum up: humans remain at the heart of decisions on the use of lethal force.

The Minister of the Armed Forces will speak on this independent opinion delivered by the Defense Ethics Committee, when its conclusions have been the subject of appropriation studies within the services of the ministry.

The question of the integration of autonomy into lethal weapon systems was chosen by the Ministry of the Armed Forces, aware of the extent of the strategic, legal and ethical issues raised by the development of military applications of Artificial Intelligence ( IA), and in particular by the potential emergence of Fully Autonomous Lethal Weapons Systems (SALA).

The conclusions of the Defense Ethics Committee unsurprisingly confirm the positions taken by France for several years on the subject of SALAs: France confirms that it will not develop and use fully autonomous lethal weapon systems.

The report attempts to identify what the notion of autonomy covers and presents the existing definitions with pedagogy. At the end of this analysis, the committee chose to establish a strict distinction between SALA and Lethal Weapons Systems Integrating Autonomy (SALIA) but unable to act alone, without human control, to modify their rules of ‘engagement and take lethal initiatives.

SALIA (lethal weapons systems integrating autonomy), as specified by the ministry, are systems comprising automated functions, but under human control, under conditions which guarantee:
– respect for the constitutional principle of the necessary free disposal of the armed force,
– respect for the principle of continuity of the chain of command of the order in its application,
– respect for the principles of international humanitarian law.

A SALIA could not take lethal initiatives without human control. He could not change his operating conditions on his own.


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