IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 36

The knowledge gap is that insight is
lacking on which moral values the
military and general public consider
important when Autonomous Weapon
Systems are deployed.
human being is wrong as a matter of principle, not just
because of the negative consequences this may bring
[19], [20]. Another set of concerns has to do with the
idea that the deployment of Autonomous Weapon Systems may make attribution of moral and legal responsibility more difficult, if not impossible altogether
[21]-[26]. On a related note, it has been argued that the
tendency for human beings to depend increasingly on
computer systems for their decision-making can lead to
a reduced sense of responsibility for the consequences
of those decisions [27], [28]; indeed, in relation to
human-operated drone operations it has also been
argued that these operations not only create a physical
distance, but also a moral distance as the face of the
opponent becomes less visible, which eliminates a moral-psychological barrier for killing [29].
The past five years, a few public opinion surveys on
Autonomous Weapon Systems have been conducted.
Carpenter [30] surveyed how people in the United States
feel about the idea of outsourcing targeting decisions to
machines. The Open RoboEthics initiative surveyed public opinion on Autonomous Weapon Systems in a poll in
2015 [31] and issued a report. A worldwide survey on
support for Autonomous Weapon Systems was conducted in 2017 [32]. However, to the best of our knowledge,
the results were not published in an academic journal.
To recap, in the debate on Autonomous Weapon Systems, strong views and opinions are voiced. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots [33] states for example on
their website that: "Allowing life or death decisions to be
made by machines crosses a fundamental moral line."
With reference to the so-called Martens clause in International Law, Peter Asaro has suggested that the use of
Autonomous Weapon Systems may be against "the dictates of public conscience." Moreover, many scholars
have raised concerns that the use of (semi-) Autonomous Weapon Systems may negatively affect military
personnel's well-being, moral integrity, and sense of
responsibility; and that it may also create unjust anxiety
and distress in the civilians potentially affected by them.
However, we found no literature or empirical studies
on moral values that are related to Autonomous

36

Weapon Systems or on what people consider to be the
"fundamental moral line." Ethical concerns are studied
in the related field of Human Operated drone operations
[29], [34], but this research is not yet extended to the
deployment of Autonomous Weapon Systems. Therefore, the knowledge gap is that insight is lacking on
which moral values the military and general public consider important when Autonomous Weapon Systems are
deployed in the near future.
The knowledge gap can be filled by studying known
value theories to see which values people deem important in the deployment of Autonomous Weapon Systems. Well-established value theories are those of
Schwartz [35], Friedman and Kahn, Jr. [36], and Beauchamp and Walters [37], but insight in how these relate
to Autonomous Weapon Systems is lacking. Deriving the
values that are most relevant in the context of the
deployment of Autonomous Weapon Systems and comparing these values to those related to the current technology, that of Human Operated drones, will lead to
insight into the underlying motives in the debate on
Autonomous Weapon Systems and to greater understanding of the views that are expressed.

Definitions of Autonomous Weapon Systems
Autonomous Weapon Systems are an emerging technology and there is still no internationally agreed upon definition [38]. Even consensus on whether Autonomous
Weapon Systems should be defined at all is lacking.
Although some scholars provide definitions in their writings (Table 1), others caution against such a specification. NATO states that: "Attempting to create definitions
for "autonomous systems" should be avoided, because
by definition, machines cannot be autonomous in a literal sense" [39]. The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research [40] is also cautious about providing
a definition of Autonomous Weapon Systems, because
they argue that the level of autonomy depends on the
"critical functions of concern and the interactions of different variables" [41]. They state that one of the reasons
for the differentiation of terms regarding Autonomous
Weapon Systems is that sometimes things (drones or
robots) are defined, but in other times a characteristic
(autonomy), variables of concern (lethality or degree of
human control), or usage (targeting or defensive measures) are drawn into the discussion and become part
of the definition.
The various definitions of Autonomous Weapon Systems are listed in Table 1. Some authors use the term
military robots which have a certain level of autonomy.
As military robots can be viewed as a subclass of Autonomous Weapon Systems according to the classification
of Royakkers and Orbons [42], we included them in the
list of definitions. In our opinion the definition in the

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