When military personnel perform in an exemplary manner, they are normally recognized. By contrast, when they do not perform appropriately, in a timely manner, or with full effort, personal consequences may result. If not always in perfect symmetry, a relationship exists between obligation and performance, responsibility and accountability. When a piece of equipment fails, unless it as the result of negligence, we do not ordinarily hold the user responsible. Radar and satellite surveillance are critical tools but things do break and systems fatigue over time. Lessons are learned; engineers design efficient redundancy and greater resiliency into the next iteration. But radar and satellites, while highly complex, represent a different order of technology than the prospect of semi- and fully- autonomous robots. As autonomy increases, questions of responsibility and accountability become more ambiguous. Regarding utilization of robotic technology, how is accountability best assigned? And how should we think about the relationship between technical capabilities and tactical choices with respect to command and control and responsibilities attached to both?
George Lucas, PhD, is the Class of 1984 Distinguished Chair in Ethics in the Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership at the U.S. Naval Academy and Professor of Ethics and Public Policy in the Graduate School of Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School. Author of five books and more than forty journal articles, he is co-editor of the textbook, Ethics and the Military Profession: The Moral Foundations of Leadership, and a companion volume, Case Studies in Military Ethics, both used in core courses devoted to ethical leadership at the U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy and more than 57 other colleges and universities throughout the nation.
John Canning is a combat systems engineer at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division (G82). Presently supporting an OSD-level working group recommending policy for the autonomous use of weapons by unmanned systems, Mr. Canning has had a leading role in pursuing the weaponization and safety of unmanned systems at both national and international levels.
Paul Scharre is in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Office of Force Development and Strategy, Plans and Forces. He manages policies on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) programs, including unmanned and autonomous programs. Paul is a former infantryman in the 75th Ranger Regiment who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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