It is the objections independent of technological capability that are gaining prominence among opponents of lethal autonomous weapons systems. These objections include the question of whether the use of autonomous weapons might lead to a responsibility gap where humans cannot uphold their moral responsibility, whether their use would undermine the human dignity of those combatants who are targeted, and the possibility that further increasing human distance from the battlefield could make the use of violence easier or less controlled.
The military holds an enduring an interest in robotic capability, and teaming these early robots with humans. From the use of remote controlled boats by the Germans in the First World War, unmanned, tracked Goliath robots filled with explosives used in World War Two, through to contemporary EOD robots and unmanned aerial and ground vehicles, military organizations have long sought to leverage robotic capability. At the highpoint of the Iraq War in 2006, the U.S. military fielded over 8000 robots in theater.
This article is the second of three that examines three aspects of human-machine teaming. In the first, I examined the rationale for human-machine teaming through ‘seven propositions’. This article examines key elements military organizations might adopt in a closer integration of humans and machines. It is proposed there are three areas upon which might be constructed a competitive strategy for future operations. The three areas provide background information, analysis and the possible applications of human-machine teams.
At some point in the future, historians may look back on the current era as the dawn of a human-machine revolution or perhaps even the beginnings of the sixth revolution in military affairs. Williamson Murray notes in The Dynamics of Military Revolution that such things are rarely apparent in advance, and only obvious in retrospect and in the wake of remarkable battlefield success. While certainly the societal, technological, political, and military ingredients of such a revolution are present, whether this consists of a revolution in military affairs will be left to future historical debate.
While it took centuries to move from Da Vinci’s vision to the Wright Brothers’ reality, the flash to bang on drones and beyond is rapidly shrinking. Whether we are still on the cusp or already tumbling down the rabbit hole, such technology will continue to combine in wonderful and terrible ways. We hope you enjoy this series as much as we enjoyed putting it together. More importantly, we hope it forces us to think about the future of warfare in new and uncomfortable ways.