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AI-enabled weapons systems need human values, says Bishop of Newcastle

26 April 2024

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HUMAN values such as virtue should be embedded in military weapons system that are enabled by artificial intelligence, the Bishop of Newcastle, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, has said.

Dr Hartley spoke in a House of Lords debate last Friday on a report by the Artificial Intelligence in Weapon Systems Committee: Proceed with Caution: Artificial intelligence in weapon systems. It recommended that human control be built into every stage of the deployment of an autonmous weapons system (AWS), and that there should be a complete ban on AI use in nuclear command and control.

“To implement AI’s benefits well, military cultural values need to be named, explained, and then translated into autonomous weapon systems’ command and control — especially where the meaning of ‘just’ diverges from the kind of utilitarian calculus that most easily ‘aligns’ digital processes with moral choice,” Dr Hartley said in the debate. “Inherent human values, including virtue, should also be embedded in the development, not just the deployment, of new AI-enabled weapon systems.

She continued: “As recent use of AI systems shows in the context of global conflict, AI changes questions of proportionality and discrimination. When a database identifies 37,000 potential targets using ‘apparent links’ to an enemy, or an intelligence officer says ‘The machine did it coldly. And that made it easier’, it is vital to attach human responsibility to each action.

“AWS designed according to military culture will, at best, practically strengthen the moral aspects of just war by reducing or eliminating collateral damage, but we should guard against a cultural rewiring or feedback loop that dilutes or corrodes the moral human responsibility that just war depends on.”

Lord Houghton, also speaking in the debate, urged the Government, however, to “not allow undue caution to inhibit progress”. Lord Hamilton said the UK would be left at “a serious disadvantage if our enemies adopt AI with enthusiasm and we do not”.

The Earl of Minto, a defence minister, said that the Government had no intention to create fully autonomous weapons. “The British Ministry of Defence will always have context-appropriate human involvement and, therefore, meaningful human control, responsibility, and accountability,” he said. “We know, however, that other nations have not made similar commitments, and may seek to use these new technologies irresponsibly.”

He said that the UK would be working with allies to establish standards for responsible military AI, while also working to identify dangerous military uses of the technology to help hold “irresponsible parties to account”.

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