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The ethical implications of AI in warfare

Dr Elke Schwarz

Senior Lecturer and IHSS Fellow

In an era where AI is reshaping various aspects of society, the integration of machine learning into warfare raises profound ethical questions. Queen Mary University of London's Dr Elke Schwarz studies the interplay between technological advancement and morality.

The proliferation of AI in warfare introduces unprecedented challenges, prompting a critical examination of its impact on moral agency and accountability. This research explores how the adoption of AI technologies reshapes our relationship with violence, challenging conventional notions of ethical conduct in warfare. By interrogating the implications of AI-enabled weapon systems, Dr Schwarz addresses pressing concerns regarding the erosion of moral responsibility and the normalisation of brutality in modern warfare.

Employing a political philosophy lens, Dr Schwarz synthesises theoretical frameworks with empirical investigations to dissect the ethical dimensions of AI in warfare. This interdisciplinary approach involves:

  • Engaging with pertinent literature in political theory and philosophy to contextualise concepts such as moral responsibility and agency
  • Conducting empirical studies, including interviews and workshops with military personnel, ethicists and stakeholders, to glean insights into their perspectives on AI ethics and warfare
  • Collaborating with experts across diverse disciplines to enrich the research with complementary perspectives and methodologies

Dr Schwarz speaking at The Center for War Studies about Death Machines, her book on the ethics of violent technologies.

The research has provided significant insights into the ethical ramifications of AI in warfare:

  • The integration of AI-enabled weapon systems facilitates the objectification of human targets, leading to heightened tolerance for collateral damage
  • Automation bias and technological mediation weaken moral agency among operators of AI-enabled targeting systems, diminishing their capacity for ethical decision-making
  • Industry dynamics, particularly venture capital funding, shape discourses surrounding military AI, influencing perceptions of responsible AI use in warfare

Dr Schwarz's work underscores the imperative for policymakers and decision-makers to reckon with the ethical complexities of AI in warfare. By offering a nuanced understanding of how technology shapes our engagement with violence, Dr Schwarz aims to facilitate informed discourse and policy interventions that uphold ethical standards in military practices. Through continued research, advocacy efforts and engagement with stakeholders, Dr Schwarz seeks to contribute to a more ethical and responsible approach to the development and deployment of AI technologies in armed conflict.

It's quite literally a matter of life and death. We don't want to get to a point where AI is used to make a decision to a take a life when no human can be held responsible for that decision.
— Dr Elke Schwarz

As AI continues to permeate the domain of warfare, Dr Schwarz's research serves as a beacon of ethical inquiry, illuminating the moral landscapes shaped by technological innovation. By confronting the ethical challenges posed by AI-enabled weapon systems, Dr Schwarz endeavours to safeguard the principles of humanity and accountability amidst the evolving dynamics of modern warfare.

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