Opposition to Lethal Autonomous Weapons Remains Strong: Survey

India was the only country surveyed where a majority of respondents voiced approval for such systems.

A remarkable 61 percent of adult respondents from 28 countries have expressed their opposition to the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems in a recent online survey.

A minority of respondents, some 21 percent, registered their approval in the poll comprising 20,505 adults aged 16 to 74, while 17 percent said they were unsure about such uses.

The survey was conducted by Ipsos between November 20, 2020, and January 8, 2021, on behalf of the Human Rights Watch Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

The survey comes on the heels of a report commissioned by The Left in the European Parliament, which warns that the ongoing artificial intelligence-driven armament of the European Union “poses a threat to the populations of Europe” and is an anticipation of global conflict.

Following the report, the European Parliament outlined guidelines for military and non-military use of artificial intelligence (AI), seeking to ensure that AI and related technologies are human-centered and conform to ethical standards.

Opposition Continues Steadily From Previous Years 

The poll was the third consecutive survey in which Ipsos asked respondents their opinion on lethal autonomous weapons.

All three surveys explained that such systems “would be capable of independently selecting targets and attacking those targets without human intervention.” 

The polls clarified these systems differ from current-day drones, where humans select and attack targets. The surveys then asked, “How do you feel about the use of such lethal autonomous weapons systems in war?”

In the latest poll, the views expressed by respondents were nearly identical to a survey conducted in late 2018.

The 2018 survey, however, showed an increase in those who opposed the systems from a similar poll conducted in January 2017 when 56 percent were opposed (versus 61 in 2018), 24 percent in favor (versus 22 in 2018), and 19 percent unsure.

India: Outlier Among 28 Nations

Opponents of the autonomous weapon systems outnumbered those who supported them in all but one country in the latest survey, Ipsos said.

While respondents from countries such as Sweden (76 percent), Turkey (73 percent), and Hungary (70 percent) topped the survey in their opposition, India was the only country surveyed where a majority of respondents (56 percent) voiced approval.

India, which was also an outlier in the 2018 survey, witnessed an eight percent rise in those favoring the systems compared to the previous poll.

France (30 percent), Japan (29 percent), and the Netherlands (26 percent) had the largest proportion unsure about the topic.

Two-thirds of those surveyed were morally concerned about the use of the systems, while 53 percent said that they feared the weapons would be unaccountable. The third big reason, at 42 percent, for the opposition, was the fear of their technical failure, while 24 percent called the systems “illegal.”

Future of Combat Looks Increasingly AI-driven

The survey reflects concerns felt by those around the world as militaries increasingly arm themselves with AI-driven weapons.

This comes as a US government-appointed panel has given its nod in favor of the use of AI weapons for the defense of America and to help militaries “prepare, sense and understand, decide, and execute faster and more efficiently.”

One of the members of the panel argued the weapons could lead to fewer confrontations and casualties due to target misidentification because such systems make fewer errors than humans.

The continued growth in the sophistication of AI-driven weapons systems has also necessitated a rethink among policymakers about potentially relaxing the rules regarding human control over AI combat systems.

Recently, Gen. John Murray, head of US Army Futures Command, suggested at a webinar that the Pentagon may have to relax current rules which emphasize the importance of human control when firing deadly weapons, as AI “thinks faster” than humans in cases such as defeating drone swarms.

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