When AI goes to War: youth opinion, modern conflict, and autonomous weapons

robot 2Weaponisation of artificial intelligence (AI) presents one of the greatest ethical and technological challenges in the 21st century and has been described as the third revolution in warfare, after the invention of gunpowder and nuclear weapons. Despite the vital importance of this development for modern society, legal and ethical practices, and technological turning point, there is little systematic study of public opinion on this critical issue. This interdisciplinary project addresses this gap. Our objective is to analyse what factors determine public attitudes towards the use of fully autonomous weapons. To do this, we put the public at the center of the policy debate, starting with youth engagement in political and decision-making processes.

On the one hand, the international community is concerned that instead of limiting conflict, using autonomous weapons in war will proliferate it. On the other hand, defence departments and the technology sector point to many benefits of using autonomous weapons, that range from limiting military conflict to saving human lives. Instead of taking sides in the debate, our research will contextualise it by using Youth Juries  and vignettes that will illustrate a series of plausible but fictitious scenarios that will be presented to a jury composed young adults (18-25 years old). The jury will consider both problems and future recommendations about the role of AI in military conflict. Rob Wortham, PhD candidate at Bath University and expert in Intelligent Systems, will provide technical expertise about AI and robotics. Dr Eugene Miakinkov, lecturer in War and Society at the University of Swansea, will contextualise the study in the fields of modern conflict and militarisation of technology. I will design, organise, and run the youth juries at Horizon. After working with young adults, we will expand our project to include a wider demographic sample and will begin to examine how the use of robotics in war is changing public perceptions of military conflict.

This study is unique because  youth is often undermined and excluded from public debate. The value of this research lies simultaneously in its contribution to the emerging field of fully autonomous weapons and in generating recommendations that can influence  government policy-makers, industry chiefs, and public discourse. This study is vital for a critical understanding of youth perceptions of AI in armed conflicts and its implications for the future policy and industry decisions.

This project will provide industry stakeholders with a roadmap of factors that determine public opinion about autonomous  weapons and help frame their research and position their products. Our findings will also contribute to select committee inquiries such as the recently created investigation into robotics and artificial intelligence by the Science and Technology Committee in Parliament. Finally, our research will inform the general public as well as bringing youth opinion into the debate about AI and military conflict.

The study will be funded with £5K by The Digital Economy Crucible 2016, an EPSRC funded leadership programmed, organised by Cherish-DE at Swansea University.

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