The UK government today described meaningful human control as “an emergent concept which the UK is mindful of and working to define with interested parties in step with technological and doctrinal developments”, in an answer to a written question on UK policy on autonomous weapons systems to the Ministry of Defence by Lord West of Spithead. Lord West has previously called on the government to elaborate their policy on control over weapons systems, and to ensure that a ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems becomes and international norm.

The UK has previously stated that they have no intention to develop fully autonomous weapons systems, and that weapons systems must remain under human control. However, the UK has rejected the need to declare a national moratorium on the development of these weapons systems, as well as the need to develop new international norms and rules, on the grounds that existing International Humanitarian Law is adequate. This effectively leaves the door open to developing these technologies in the future.

The answer to Lord Spithead’s question adds some further elaboration of the UK’s policy, stating that “in practical terms, in UK operations every target is assessed by a human, and every release of weapons is authorised by a human; other than in a very small number of instances, all targets are also acquired by a human…in those instances a human is required to authorise weapons release”

The full answer, from Lord Astor of Hever on behalf of the government, reads:

Yes, the Government does have a clear policy on this and I refer the noble Lord to the statement made in the House of Commons by my hon. Friend the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Alistair Burt) on 17 June 2013 (Official Report, column 734) on the subject of autonomous weapons.

The phrase meaningful human control is an emergent concept which the UK is mindful of and working to define with interested parties in step with technological and doctrinal developments. However, in practical terms, in UK operations every target is assessed by a human, and every release of weapons is authorised by a human; other than in a very small number of instances, all targets are also acquired by a human. The exception is in a small number of defensive anti-materiel systems e.g. Phalanx. However, in those instances a human is required to authorise weapons release.

Read more

UK and other states must set out clear policy to prevent development of killer robots (November 2014)

Letter from UK Government reiterates position on killer robots (June 2013)

UK says killer robots will not meet requirements of international law (June 2013)

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Posted in: Autonomous weapons, UK Parliamentary,