The First Committee of the UN general Assembly on Disarmament and International Security commenced on Thursday 8 October, and 9 October saw this year’s first side event. It was hosted by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), and featured a lively discussion on Cyber and autonomous weapons: Potential overlap, interaction and vulnerabilities.
The event started off with an introduction by Kerstin Vignard, Deputy to the Director at UNIDIR. She situated the event within UNIDIR’s work the weaponization of increasingly autonomous technologies. The project’s primary aim is to provide insights and conceptual frameworks that will enable policy-makers to better think, discuss and make informed decisions about autonomy in weapon systems. She cautioned that emerging technologies are outpacing the international community’s ability to develop appropriate legal and normative frameworks and questioned whether there international discussions on cyber and autonomy would benefit from greater cross-fertilization.
The first speaker was Ken Anderson, professor of law at Washington College of Law at American University. He presented background on the two weapon types, and explained where cyber weapons and autonomous weapon systems overlap, and where they diverge. He posed the audience a set of thought-provoking questions to guide them in thinking about the overlap of these technologies.
The second speaker was Dr. Patrick Lin, director of the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic State University. He addressed the issue from an ethical perspective, and considered how norms on cyber weapons are perhaps a “missing link” in the debate on autonomous weapon systems. He compared and contrasted norms discussions on cyber weapons and autonomous weapons. He specifically highlighted the concept of meaningful human control, which has been a significant topic of discussion in the context of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems, yet is thus far missing in cybersecurity discussions.
The last speaker was Dr. Heather Roff, Research Scientist in the Global Security Initiative at Arizona State University. She focused on where cybersecurity, Autonomous Weapon Systems and AI/Machine Learning intersect. She considered the questions that we need to ask ourselves to be able to define what autonomous weapon systems really are. To what extent are these machines already artificially intelligent?
During the discussion period, participants questioned how the international community can adapt existing fora in order to address these emerging technology issues. UNIDIR noted that this is an area of research where it intends to continue to contribute. The three presentations will be available on the UNIDIR website (www.unidir.org) in the coming days, but until then the audience was urged to read the latest UNIDIR report:” The Weaponization of Increasingly Autonomous Technologies in the Maritime Environment: Testing the Waters “.
Text and photos by Maaike Verbruggen
Pictures from the event: