VATICAN CITY (CNS) — No matter how sophisticated and how many algorithms are programmed to help a drone or other machine make calculations before firing on a target, autonomous weapons systems could never comply with international human rights law, a Vatican official said.
“Meaningful human involvement is absolutely essential in decisions affecting the life and death of human beings,” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican observer to U.N. agencies in Geneva, told experts meeting May 13-16 to discuss lethal autonomous weapons systems.
Archbishop Tomasi said it was essential “to recognize that autonomous weapon systems can never replace the human capacity for moral reasoning, including in the context of war.”
“The development of autonomous weapon systems will ultimately lead to widespread proliferation,” the archbishop said, and “the development of complex autonomous weapon systems which remove the human actor from lethal decision-making is short-sighted and may irreversibly alter the nature of warfare in a less humane direction, leading to consequences we cannot possibly foresee, but that will in any case increase the dehumanization of warfare.”
Archbishop Tomasi said technology obviously has many beneficial uses and even the idea of a nation keeping its soldiers out of harm’s way is praiseworthy, but when nations are using or considering the use of technology to target and kill human beings, they are obliged to weigh decisions in a way only a human being can.
“Taking humans ‘out of the loop’ presents significant ethical questions, primarily because of the absence of meaningful human involvement in lethal decision-making,” he said. “Can machines — well-programmed with highly sophisticated algorithms to make decisions on the battlefield in compliance with international human rights law — truly replace humans in decisions over life and death? The answer is no.
“Decisions over life and death inherently call for human qualities, such as compassion and insight, to be present. While imperfect human beings may not perfectly apply such qualities in the heat of war, these qualities are neither replaceable nor programmable,” the archbishop said.
“Autonomous weapon systems technology makes war too easy and removes its reliance on soldierly virtues,” Archbishop Tomasi said.
The archbishop also expressed concern about autonomous weapons systems becoming the object of a new arms race. “History shows that developments in military technology, from crossbows to drones, give the inventing side a temporary military advantage,” until the technology is quickly copied, he said.
Additionally, he added, one of the main motivations for developing such weapons systems — keeping one’s own military personnel safe — removes one of the biggest deterrents to hasty military action.
“Furthermore,” he said, “the delegation of the human decision-making responsibilities to an autonomous system designed to take human lives creates an accountability vacuum that makes it impossible to hold anyone sufficiently accountable for violations of international law incurred by an autonomous weapon system.”
Help us keep you informed -- CatholicPhilly.com can't do it with youDuring CatholicPhilly.com's fall donation campaign, you have a way to help us deliver the kind of news you need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live. Every household's costs keep rising, and we're no different. We make sure your dollars in any amount go a long way toward continuing our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month. Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can -- a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community.
Make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Or by credit card here: