Coupling levels of abstraction in understanding meaningful human control of autonomous weapons: a two-tiered approach

Ethics and Information Technology 23 (3):455-464 (2021)
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The international debate on the ethics and legality of autonomous weapon systems (AWS), along with the call for a ban, primarily focus on the nebulous concept of fully autonomous AWS. These are AWS capable of target selection and engagement absent human supervision or control. This paper argues that such a conception of autonomy is divorced from both military planning and decision-making operations; it also ignores the design requirements that govern AWS engineering and the subsequent tracking and tracing of moral responsibility. To show how military operations can be coupled with design ethics, this paper marries two different kinds of meaningful human control (MHC) termed levels of abstraction. Under this two-tiered understanding of MHC, the contentious notion of ‘full’ autonomy becomes unproblematic.

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Steven Umbrello
Institute For Ethics And Emerging Technology