24
May
2022
Études de l'Ifri Focus Stratégique
Artificial Intelligence, Adam and the Hands of God by Michelangelo in the modern style with Robot

Deus ex machina : les enjeux de l’autonomisation des systèmes d’armes Focus stratégique, No. 110, May 2022

While the automatization of machines is part of an already long historical, conceptual, and technical trajectory, the exponential progress of artificial intelligence techniques, robotics and their military applications suggest the emergence of systems that integrate more autonomy. Indeed, despite campaigns calling for a moratorium on autonomous weapons, most military powers are developing programs focused on autonomy. 

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A full-fledged autonomous arms race is emerging, dominated by the United States and China – mainly due to a large, technologically advanced civilian digital industry capable of irrigating the development of military applications. Russia is closely following these two giants, thanks to numerous projects that it does not hesitate to experiment on theaters of operations. The review of their military investments in research and development, their public declarations and their presentations in this field demonstrates the significant attraction of these countries for the autonomization of weapon systems.

The appeal of weapon system autonomization is such that it is sometimes seen as a sort of "deus ex machina", capable of remedying both the problems associated with the reduction in the size of armies and the reduced tolerance for human losses on the battlefield. However, this study seeks to demonstrate that the autonomization of weapon systems cannot be a miraculous solution capable of alleviating all the problems faced by the French armed forces. If there is a "deus ex machina", it is only because of the contributions of technology to emerging weapons systems. However, this technological progress does not fall from the sky: it is therefore necessary to remain pragmatic in order to prepare for the paradigm shift brought about by the rise of autonomous systems.

While real game changers such as drone swarms or Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) could soon arrive on the battlefield, it is essential to consider the capability and strategic implications that these technologies will have for the French armed forces. In this respect, the military need encourages the fastest appropriation possible of the technological building blocks allowing the autonomization of certain functions of weapon systems. However, the development of weapon systems integrating autonomy and the acculturation to these technologies represent a major challenge. Let's take the god out of the machine, therefore, in order to shed light on the military uses of systems integrating autonomy, as well as their implications for the French armed forces.

 

> This content is available in French: "Deus ex machina : les enjeux de l’autonomisation des systèmes d’armes".

Keywords
Armed forces Artificial Intelligence autonomous weapons Lethal autonomous weapons systems Military Robotics New Technologies China France Russia United States