Systems, Networks, and the Distribution of Autonomy: Next Generation Legal Issues with Artificial Intelligence in Armed Conflict – University of Copenhagen

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Systems, Networks, and the Distribution of Autonomy: Next Generation Legal Issues with Artificial Intelligence in Armed Conflict

Conference theme

Autonomous weapons systems (AWS) are the next evolution in military technology. Debates held at the UN are stalled where the States participating can’t even agree on the need or not of a definition for autonomy. Until now, academic and diplomatic debates have focused on terminator-like individualised entities. Is that an accurate description of what AWS are?

While it is clear that AWS will have to conform to International Humanitarian Law (IHL) to be lawfully deployed, it is now obvious that those legal obligations do not possess sufficient clarity to adequately constrain AWS design, function, and use. Consequently, misuses of AWS might lead to impunity.

The current anthropomorphic trope portrays AWS as individualised entities, thus ignoring their networked nature where invisible forces frame the types of decisions that human operators can make. Where the network possess both civilian and military nodes, human and machines, by focusing only on the fielded weaponized system, we ignore the impact that all the other nodes have on the end decisions made by the one system that is projecting force.

We need to look at the concept of autonomy through the lenses of networks and distribution. This will allow understanding the interplay of influences in one-mind many-bodies entities, and adapt our legal regimes to tackle the issues posed by the development of autonomy in warfare. By setting the foundations for this new perspective, this conference aims at fostering new research venues in the debate on AWS. While this perspective also reveals new problems, such as the erosion of intentionality and responsibility, it also shines a light on other elements of the military autonomous network, such as cyber weapons, satellites, and integration of civilian technologies and operators in the military networks

Panel Themes (tentative titles):

  • A systems and networks perspective on AWS: taking a different legal approach
  • “Networks perspective” and International Humanitarian Law disruption: Article 36, meaningful human control, and the dispersal of responsibility
  • Militarised networks and Human Rights
  • Civilian elements in militarised networks
  • Strategic and military considerations: consequences in terms of military organisation for the change of perspective in order to respect IHL
  • Future-proofing regulation for networked technologies of war

Confirmed speakers

  • Ole Wæver, Professor, University of Copenhagen
  • Kristin Bergtora Sandvik, Professor, University of Oslo
  • Hin-Yan Liu, Associate professor, University of Copenhagen
  • Jes Frellsen, Associate professor, IT University of Copenhagen
  • Gary Schaub, Senior researcher, University of Copenhagen
  • Peter Vedel Kessing, Senior researcher, The Danish Institute for Human Rights
  • Merel Noorman, Assistant professor, Tilburg University
  • Iben Yde, Assistant Professor, Royal Danish Defence College
  • Francesca Lagioia, Postdoctoral fellow, European University Institute
  • Amin Parsa, Postdoctoral fellow, Lund University
  • Cornelius Rust Wiesener, External lecturer, University of Copenhagen
  • Sophie-Charlotte Fischer, PhD researcher, ETH Zürich
  • Maaike Verbruggen, PhD researcher, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • Tijmen Wisman, PhD researcher, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Barbara Diàz Alaminos, PhD researcher, University of Copenhagen
  • Matthijs Maas, PhD researcher, University of Copenhagen
  • Léonard Van Rompaey, PhD researcher, University of Copenhagen


Registration is free of charge, but please register via this registration form.

Registration deadline: 1 November 2018, 12:00.

Time: 15–16 November 2018

Place: Nanna Berg Auditorium, 1st floor, room 9A-1-01, Njalsgade 76, DK-2300 Copenhagen S

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