Autonomous systems

Written December, 2012


Machines (both for peaceful purposes and for war fighting) are increasingly evolving from human-controlled, to automated, to autonomous, with the ability to act on their own without human input. Autonomous systems will continue to emerge in a number of areas in the coming decades, from robots on the battlefield, to autonomous robotic surgical devices. As these systems operate without human control and are designed to function and make decisions on their own, the ethical, legal, social, and policy implications have grown exponentially. Who is responsible for the actions undertaken by autonomous systems? If robotic technology can potentially reduce the number of human fatalities, is it the responsibility of scientists to design these systems?

There are more technical issues to consider as well, such as software reliability and predictability. How can we test these systems to insure that they will not behave in a potentially dangeous way in a situation and set of circumstances we had not thought of? This is especially worrisome in the case of lethal force.

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Click here to see more about the Reilly Center’s Emerging Issues of National Security and intelligence (ETNSI) research initiative, gathering and the ethical, legal, and policy implications of their employment.

News, books, and reports on autonomous systems

Autonomous Military Robotics: Risk, Ethics, and Design (Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group)
Coral-bots to repair world’s reefs
FDA Investigating Potential Problems with Popular Surgical Robot
DARPA’s robot changes tire, aspires to defuse bombs
Department of Defense Directive (Autonomy in Weapons System) 
Faith-based organizations oppose lethal use of drones
Freed From Its Cage, the Gentler Robot
Humans Can Feel Empathy Toward Robots
Navigating the Legality of Autonomous Vehicles
Robots at War: Scholars Debate the Ethical Issues
Study Shows That Humans Attribute Moral Accountability to Robots
Wired for War, by Peter Singer

Opinion Pieces

Don’t fear the robo-apocalypse, yet
Raging (Again) Against the Robots
Smart Drones
The Ethical War Machine: Can a robot win hearts and minds?
Why robots are ready for takeoff
With Drone Warfare, America Approaches the Robo-Rubicon

The “killer robot” debate

HRC’s Campaign to Stop Killer Robots
US must impose moratorium and seek global ban on killer robots
What Human Right’s Watch’s “Case Against Killer Robots” Gets Wrong About Military Reality 

Organizations devoted to the study of autonomous systems

ARC Centre of Excellence for Autonomous Systems
Autonomous Systems and Robotics at University of Salford
Autonomous Systems Lab (ASL) at the University of California at Santa Cruz
Centre for Autonomous Systems (CAS) at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm
Centre for Autonomous Systems Technology at the University of Liverpool
Consortium for Emerging Technologies, Military Operations, and National Security
Cornell University Autonomous Systems Lab
Office of Naval Research (ONR) Intelligent and Autonomous Systems
Intelligent Systems Lab Amsterdam (ISLA) at the University of Amsterdam
International Society for Military Ethics
Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research, Naval Research Laboratory)
Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems Research (L‐CAS)
Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology (MAST), U.S. Army
UPM Autonomous Systems Laboratory
Virginia Center for Autonomous Systems
Vision and Autonomous Systems Center (VASC)


Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) You Tube Channel

NOVA’s “Rise of the Drones”
Robot Demonstrations (via Peter Singer)