Paul Scharre’s new book on autonomous weapons begins with an account of an incident he experienced while on patrol as a US Army Ranger in Afghanistan in 2004. A young girl of five or six years old herding a couple of goats approached Scharre’s team while they were taking cover in the mountains. As she looped around them, frequently glancing towards them, they realised she had a radio and was reporting their position, acting as a spotter for Taliban fighters.
What should the soldiers do? According to the laws of war, the girl was an enemy combatant whom they were allowed to shoot. If a person is participating in hostilities, regardless of their age, they are a lawful target for engagement.
Scharre and his squad had no doubt that it would have been quite wrong to kill the little girl, and so they moved away and regrouped in a safer area. But what would a machine have done in their place? If it had been programmed to kill enemy combatants lawfully, it would Read more