Death by algorithm : public opinion and the lethal autonomous weapons debate
Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), branded “killer robots”, are expected to revolutionise warfare and have been the subject of hotly debated international discussions. Officially, they do not exist yet, but already the potential legal and ethical implications have led to calls for a ban on their development and use. This thesis explores the current debates about LAWS and concludes that a pre-emptive ban is necessary to protect human rights and maintain global stability. The central question driving this study is “How can civil society engage the public on LAWS and gain support for an international ban on their development and use?” In order to analyse this question, a public opinion survey was conducted to discover current levels of awareness of LAWS and attitudes towards their development and use among a Greek student sample. The results suggest that awareness of LAWS among the public is low. However, once provided with a definition of these weapons, most people opposed their development and use and supported a global ban. Moreover, the main reason cited for rejecting LAWS was that lethal decision-making should not be ceded to machines. Based on these findings, some recommendations are made regarding strengthening public engagement in the debate.