Reports  |  ,   |  December 20, 2008

Autonomous Military Robotics: Risk, Ethics, and Design

Report by Patrick Lin, George Bekey, and Keith Abney. Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Prepared for the US Department of Navy, Office of Naval Research. 112 pages.


This report is designed as a preliminary investigation into the risk and ethics issues related to autonomous military systems, with a particular focus on battlefield robotics as perhaps the most controversial area. It is intended to help inform policymakers, military personnel, scientists, as well as the broader public who collectively influence such developments. Our goal is to raise the issues that need to be considered in responsibly introducing advanced technologies into the battlefield and, eventually, into society. With history as a guide, we know that foresight is critical to both mitigate undesirable effects as well as to best promote or leverage the benefits of technology.

In this report, we will present:

  • the presumptive case for the use of autonomous military robotics;
  • the need to address risk and ethics in the field;
  • the current and predicted state of military robotics;
  • programming approaches as well as relevant ethical theories and considerations (including the Laws of War, Rules of Engagement);
  • a framework for technology risk assessment;
  • ethical and social issues, both near- and far-term;
  • and recommendations for future work . . .