This is a guest post. The views expressed here are solely those of the authors and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE.
Last month, over 1,000 robotics and artificial intelligence researchers signed an open letter calling for a ban on offensive autonomous weapons, putting new energy into an already spirited debate about the role of autonomy in weapons of the future.
These researchers join an ongoing conversation among lawyers, ethicists, academics, activists, and defense professionals on potential future weapons that would select, engage, and destroy targets without a human in the loop. As AI experts, the authors of the letter can help militaries better understand the risks associated with increasingly intelligent and autonomous systems, and we welcome their contribution to the discussion.
By calling for a ban on autonomous weapons, the letter raises a host of complex issues, and it will take continued engagement by scientists to help address them. In this article, we discuss some historical precedents for weapons bans, as well as some of the specific challenges that an effective restriction on lethal autonomous weapons would face.