The United Kingdom government has been cautioned about its ambitions to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) in defense, particularly in AI-enabled autonomous weapons systems (AWS). A House of Lords Artificial Intelligence report in the Weapon Systems Committee highlights the need for ethical and legal considerations, public confidence, and democratic endorsement in the development and use of AI, especially concerning Autonomous Weapon Systems.
The potential integration of AI into warfare through AWS is touted as a game-changer in defense technology. However, the House of Lords committee emphasizes the importance of a cautious and responsible approach to harness the benefits without compromising ethical and legal principles.
The House of Lords committee’s report presents several key recommendations to guide the government’s approach to AI in warfare:
1. Leading in international regulation
The UK government is urged to take a leading role in international engagement regarding the regulation of AWS. The outcomes of international discussions could lead to either a legally binding treaty or non-binding measures clarifying the application of international humanitarian law. Additionally, the UK should spearhead efforts to prohibit the use of AI in nuclear command, control, and communications.
2. Establishing an operational definition
Surprisingly, the UK government currently lacks an operational definition of AWS. The committee proposes creating a future-proofed definition to aid policy development and participation in international dialogues. A clear definition is essential for meaningful engagement in discussions concerning AWS.
3. Ensuring human control
The committee emphasizes maintaining human control at all stages of AWS’s lifecycle. This includes deployment to ensure human moral agency and legal compliance, aligning with international humanitarian law. The report underlines the UK’s commitment to these requirements.
4. Revamping procurement processes
The Ministry of Defence’s procurement processes face criticism for lacking accountability and being overly bureaucratic. Additionally, the ministry is cited as lacking capability in software and data, both pivotal in AI development. The committee warns that revolutionary changes may be needed, highlighting the urgency of addressing these issues.
Lord Lisvane, Chair of the Artificial Intelligence in Weapon Systems Committee, remarked, “Artificial Intelligence has permeated various aspects of our lives, and defense is no exception. Its potential to revolutionize defense technology is a subject of debate and controversy. While AI could offer substantial strategic and battlefield benefits, our report, ‘Proceed with Caution: Artificial Intelligence in Weapon Systems,’ stresses the need for a cautious approach by the government.”
Lord Lisvane further stated, “We welcome the government’s recognition of the role of responsible AI in future defense capabilities. However, ethical and legal principles must be integrated into every stage of AI in AWS, accompanied by efforts to ensure public understanding and democratic endorsement. Technology should enhance our capabilities, but not at the expense of our moral principles.”
The House of Lords committee’s report underscores the transformative potential of AI in defense while urging the UK government to proceed with caution, responsibility, and transparency. The recommendations emphasize the importance of international leadership, operational clarity, human control, and a revamped procurement process to ensure that AI is harnessed for national security without compromising ethics and legality.
As the global landscape evolves in the era of AI, the UK’s approach to AI in warfare will undoubtedly influence international discussions and regulations, shaping the future of autonomous weapon systems worldwide.