The Terminator Conundrum

Alumni Paul Scharre on Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War

Using his experience in researching and establishing policies on the future of autonomous weapons, Washington University alumni Paul Scharre spoke with IAS students and faculty about the benefits, dangers, and legal, ethical, and safety debates surrounding the development of advanced and autonomous military technology. While Mr. Scharre’s presentation gave a great background into the quickly advancing field of artificial intelligence, he also introduced many of the questions that he and many other national security specialists are attempting to answer. What truly is the definition of an autonomous weapon? Should we take humans out of the loop when it comes to launching weapons and targeting enemies? Should the Pentagon be investing in autonomous weapon development? If the answer is no, how do we ensure that other states are not developing them either when technological autonomy is not easily identifiable? Although he pointed out that the basic technology to build autonomous weapons has already been created, he emphasized the need to contemplate such questions and be wary of future consequences if such technology is to be developed further so that weapons eventually reach full autonomy. 

Paul Scharre currently works as the Director of the Future of Warfare Initiative at the national security think tank, Center for a New American Security. He previously held positions in the United States Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD).