As early as 1599, Shakespeare’s turn of phrase for Anthony in his play Julius Caesar tacitly acknowledged a 200-year-old human acceptance of autonomous war machines. As modern-day ethicists agonize over the autonomy’s ascendance, they ignore 2,600 years of wartime employment of autonomous, self-replicating killing machines that are by popular opinion still our best friend.
While the rapid advance of artificial intelligence and warbots has the potential to disrupt U.S. military force structures and employment methods, they offer great promise and are worth the risk. This is especially true as the conceptual mechanisms for providing variable autonomy and direct accountability are already in place. Commanders will retain their central role in determining the level of variable autonomy given to subordinates, whether human or warbot, and will continue to be held accountable when things inevitably go wrong for either.
German doctrine successfully integrated current technologies in aircraft, radios, and tanks into a coherent and integrated way of fighting and then applied it to great effect. The result was amplified because the Germans fought an enemy that in many cases failed to account for the possibilities enabled by the new combination of these technologies. We are now on the cusp of a similar revolution in warfare.