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EU Adopts Ethical Guidelines for Military Use of Artificial Intelligence

"AI must always remain a tool used only to assist decision-making or help when taking action," rapporteur Lebreton said.

Members of the European Parliament have voted in favor of a report outlining guidelines for military and non-military use of artificial intelligence (AI). The guidelines seek to ensure that AI and related technologies are human-centered and conform to ethical standards.

Titled Artificial intelligence: questions of interpretation and application of international law, the report addresses issues concerning lethal autonomous weapon systems, with a focus on using the systems only as a last resort. It recommends prohibiting their development, production, and use “without meaningful human control.” Humans must always be able to correct or disable AI systems in case of unforeseen behavior, MEPs said.

The report also calls for AI-driven technologies to be used in public services such as healthcare and justice to be assessed for risks.

“Faced with the multiple challenges posed by the development of AI, we need legal responses,” rapporteur Gilles Lebreton stated.

“[I]n any area, especially in the military field and in those managed by the state such as justice and health, AI must always remain a tool used only to assist decision-making or help when taking action. It must never replace or relieve humans of their responsibility,” he added.

AI-driven militarization in the EU has sparked serious discussions about its potential “threat to the populations of Europe.” Critics claim that a rearmament using autonomous systems has the potential to generate new forms of surveillance and propaganda within Europe and reignite latent conflicts among major powers.

AI Development in the Military

Around the world, states such as the US, Russia, and China have made significant investments to modernize their forces through the use of AI.

In 2019, the US announced its strategy of using artificial intelligence in many areas of the military, including intelligence analysis, decision-making, vehicle autonomy, logistics, and weaponry. Further AI-related projects include testing whether the technology can predict when tanks and trucks need maintenance and AI-powered swarms of drones.

Out of the Department of Defense’s proposed 2020 budget of $718 billion, $927 million was allocated for AI and machine learning.  Though still a comparatively small percentage, this expenditure reflects a growing attention to military use of AI. The Pentagon is reported to have “shifted its focus” to integrate AI across its military services. 

China also articulated its AI strategy in 2017, announcing that “the world’s major developed countries are taking the development of AI as a major strategy to enhance national competitiveness and protect national security.”

Russia expects to have significantly improved its position in AI by 2024, though criticized for lagging behind the other major powers.

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