Autonomous Weapons and the Nature of Law and Morality: How Rule-of-Law-Values Require Automation of the Rule of Law

Temple International and Comparative Law Journal 30 (1):99-117 (2016)
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While Autonomous Weapons Systems have obvious military advantages, there are prima facie moral objections to using them. By way of general reply to these objections, I point out similarities between the structure of law and morality on the one hand and of automata on the other. I argue that these, plus the fact that automata can be designed to lack the biases and other failings of humans, require us to automate the formulation, administration, and enforcement of law as much as possible, including the elements of law and morality that are operated by combatants in war. I suggest that, ethically speaking, deploying a legally competent robot in some legally regulated realm is not much different from deploying a more or less well-armed, vulnerable, obedient, or morally discerning soldier or general into battle, a police officer onto patrol, or a lawyer or judge into a trial. All feature automaticity in the sense of deputation to an agent we do not then directly control. Such relations are well understood and well-regulated in morality and law; so there is not much challenging philosophically in having robots be some of these agents — excepting the implications of the limits of robot technology at a given time for responsible deputation. I then consider this proposal in light of the differences between two conceptions of law. These are distinguished by whether each conception sees law as unambiguous rules inherently uncontroversial in each application; and I consider the prospects for robotizing law on each. Likewise for the prospects of robotizing moral theorizing and moral decision-making. Finally I identify certain elements of law and morality, noted by the philosopher Immanuel Kant, which robots can participate in only upon being able to set ends and emotionally invest in their attainment. One conclusion is that while affectless autonomous devices might be fit to rule us, they would not be fit to vote with us. For voting is a process for summing felt preferences, and affectless devices would have none to weigh into the sum. Since they don't care which outcomes obtain, they don't get to vote on which ones to bring about.



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Duncan MacIntosh
Dalhousie University

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