Date: 26 Oct 2013

Bridging the Responsibility Gap in Automated Warfare

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Abstract

Sparrow (J Appl Philos 24:62–77, 2007) argues that military robots capable of making their own decisions would be independent enough to allow us denial for their actions, yet too unlike us to be the targets of meaningful blame or praise—thereby fostering what Matthias (Ethics Inf Technol 6:175–183, 2004) has dubbed “the responsibility gap.” We agree with Sparrow that someone must be held responsible for all actions taken in a military conflict. That said, we think Sparrow overlooks the possibility of what we term “blank check” responsibility: A person of sufficiently high standing could accept responsibility for the actions of autonomous robotic devices—even if that person could not be causally linked to those actions besides this prior agreement. The basic intuition behind our proposal is that humans can impute relations even when no other form of contact can be established. The missed alternative we want to highlight, then, would consist in an exchange: Social prestige in the occupation of a given office would come at the price of signing away part of one's freedoms to a contingent and unpredictable future guided by another (in this case, artificial) agency.