IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 20

OPINION

M.L. Cummings

here has been increas-
ing debate over the
use of autonomous
weapons in the mi-
litary, whether they
should be banned for offensive
uses, and even whether such tech-
nologies threaten human exis-
tence. As a former fighter pilot for
the U.S. Navy, but also as a profes-
sor of robotics, I find these debates
filled with emotional rhetoric, often
made worse by media and activ-
ist organizations. Given my unique
position on both sides of the tech-
nology development and operation
coin, I offer the following for consid-
eration in this very complicated and
multidimensional issue.
First, it is important to define
autonomy in technology, which is
not the same as automation. Auto-
mated systems operate by clear
repeatable rules based on unam-
biguous sensed data. Autonomous
systems take in data about the
unstructured world around them,
process that data to generate infor-
mation, and generate alternatives
and make decisions in the face of
uncertainty. Often, people will refer
to this set of capabilities as self-
governing. Systems are not neces-
sarily either fully automated or fully
autonomous, but often fall some-

T

Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/MTS.2019.2948438
Date of current version: 2 December 2019

20

Lethal Autonomous
Weapons
Meaningful Human Control or
Meaningful Human Certification?

where in between. For example,
one of the most advanced military
unmanned aerial vehicles, the U.S.
Air Force Global Hawk, is highly
automated but only invokes low-
level autonomy when it loses its
communication link to its remote
operators and lands itself at an
emergency airfield.
Proponents of a ban on offen-
sive autonomous weapons advo-
cate that any use of such weapons
should not be beyond meaningful
human control [7]. This language is
problematic at best because there
are widely varying interpretations
of what meaning human control is.
IEEE TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY MAGAZINE

For example, meaningful human
control (MHC) could mean that a
human has to initiate the launch
of such a weapon. In today's net-
worked world, this person can
(and often is) thousands of miles
from the intended target. It hardly
seems meaningful for a human to
release a weapon if he or she is sit-
ting 4000 miles from the point of
weapon release. MHC might mean
a human has to monitor a weapon
until impact and perhaps have the
ability, however remotely, to abort
the mission. In such cases, as will
be discussed in more detail, we
are often asking humans to take
∕

DECEMBER 2019



IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019

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