For some time, Canada’s silence has been a standard feature of international discussions on autonomous weapons. True to form, Canada remained quiet at the April 26-27 informal, virtual sessions on lethal autonomous weapons systems hosted by Brazil, the current chair of the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).
The term “open-source intelligence” refers to data that is accessible to everyone. At one time, this would mean sources that could be readily found in public and university libraries, in newspapers, books, journals, government documents, and curated collections.
As the tools and methods of warfare continue to evolve, it is critical that arms control, disarmament, and normative regimes also advance. Warfighting applications of today’s emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), outer space, and cyber capabilities are becoming more apparent andhold enormous potential for expansion if left unregulated. Such capabilities clearly have the potential to be used in harming civilians, violating international humanitarian law, and creating unpredictable and even unintended escalation of conflict. In this context, compliance with existing arms control measures and humanitarian principles is essential. Yet new arms control frameworks are also needed to mitigate these risks and maintain global commitments to disarmament.
Military research and development in recent years have focused on artificial intelligence (AI) tools that gather and analyze data quickly. Combined with improved sensors, they make possible faster and seemingly more accurate targeting of enemy positions. Now this R&D is being operationalized. Last September, according to Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, the United States Air Force, for the first time, used AI to help to identify a target or targets in “a live operational kill chain.”
Two titans from the Cold War era seem set to go another round, this time over the prospect of Ukraine’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which the United States calls a sovereign Ukrainian decision and Russia opposes vehemently. Whatever the outcome of the current standoff, another confrontation between the United States and Russia that merits closer attention is brewing — one that may fundamentally reshape the US-Russia security relationship in the not-so-distant future.
More than a year and a half after Canada’s unsuccessful run for a seat on the UN Security Council, shortcomings in Ottawa’s arms control and disarmament agenda remain prominent. As the international community continues to face multiple, overlapping security challenges at the start of 2022, the federal Cabinet installed last October has a fresh opportunity to take stock of Canada’s foreign policy priorities.
At first glance, it might appear that seven years of international discussions on autonomous weapons have had few concrete results. At the time of writing, the third session of the 2021 United Nations (UN) Group of Governmental Experts on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) was scheduled to take place in early December in Geneva, Switzerland. The most that is expected from these meetings is a proposal to continue talking.
Canada is in dire need of a solid diplomatic strategy that responds to the growing nexus between emerging technologies and national security. Newly-appointed foreign minister Mélanie Joly would do well to prioritize the development of robust and forward-looking policies to tackle tech-related security concerns, as is increasingly the case in the foreign ministries of a number of countries—including key Canadian allies as well as would-be adversaries.
There is a growing global consensus that all AI technology should exhibit the characteristics of transparency, justice and fairness, non-maleficence, and privacy. While a specific blueprint of responsible AI in defence applications has not yet emerged, shared commitments to reliable technologies that operate with an appropriate role for human judgement and experience are increasingly accepted.
I think I finally REALLY get it. I’ve been reading analysis of autonomous weapons and AI-powered tech by Ploughshares Senior Researcher Branka Marijan for years, but I’ve never completely understood why so many individuals and organizations and even countries are totally against weapons that can target and kill humans without humans as part of the decision-making process.