responsibility gap

National Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Why the Responsibility Gap is Not a Compelling Objection to Lethal Autonomous Weapons

This article received an honourable mention in the undergraduate category of the 2023 National Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Written by Tanae Rao, University of Oxford student

There are some crimes, such as killing non-combatants and mutilating corpses, so vile that they are clearly impermissible even in the brutal chaos of war. Upholding human dignity, or whatever is left of it, in these situations may require us to hold someone morally responsible for violation of the rules of combat. Common sense morality dictates that we owe it to those unlawfully killed or injured to punish the people who carried out the atrocity. But what if the perpetrators weren’t people at all? Robert Sparrow argues that, when lethal autonomous weapons cause war crimes, it is often impossible to identify someone–man or machine–who can appropriately be held morally responsible (Sparrow 2007; Sparrow 2016). This might explain some of our ambivalence about the deployment of autonomous weapons, even if their use would replace human combatants who commit war crimes more frequently than their robotic counterparts. Continue reading

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