Kenya Defence College hosts autonomous weapons lecture

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Senior officers from the Kenyan Air Force, Army and Navy along with National Defence College staff were given insight into autonomous weapons in an era of geopolitical competition.

In his lecture to the college, part of the National Defence University at Karen in Nairobi, Professor Thomas Simpson, an associate Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy from the Blavatnic School of Government, Oxford University, also delved into the artificial intelligence issue and ethical questions around its use.

His lecture, a Kenya Ministry of Defence (MoD) statement has it, opened with an overview of the escalating presence of autonomous systems in fields ranging from military applications to healthcare and transport. Simpson emphasised the advent of such technology offers undeniable benefits, but the ethical consequences of granting machines the ability to make life-or-death decisions are significant and cannot be overlooked.

To set the stage for discussion, the professor discerningly defined what constitutes “killer robots”. Drawing from international definitions, the lecture introduced the concept of fully autonomous weapons systems capable of independently selecting and engaging targets, with no human intervention in the critical decision making process.

The lecture also discussed ethical considerations “engendered” by development and deployment of the so-called killer robots. He urged the audience to reflect on the balance between military advantage and the value of human life, emphasising the core ethical principles of justice, dignity and the right to life.

The professor stressed the importance of clear moral accountability in situations involving autonomous systems. The lack of human decision-makers raises questions about who bears responsibility for inadvertent harm caused by machines. Addressing this dilemma, discussions touched on the need for transparency and accountability in both development and use of these technologies.