Pentagon Updates Autonomous 10-Year Old Weapons Directive

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The United States Department of Defense recently revealed they are updating their autonomous weapons guidance in order to consider more advances in artificial intelligence technology.  The current head of the Pentagon’s Office of emerging capabilities says this move involves a revised directive that is scheduled to be released towards the end of the year.

Signed on November 12, 2012, by then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, DoD directive 3000.09 established review processes and new policy and responsibilities intended for the “design, development, acquisition, testing, fielding, and employment of autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems, including guided munitions that can independently select and discriminate targets.”

Of course, it has been nearly ten years since the release of DoD directive 3000.09, and in that time machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies have progressed immensely.  That simply leads to the obvious realization that it revisions to the directive may be entirely necessary to stay on track with the Pentagon’s “responsible AI” initiative, and other ethical principles the agency has adopted.

Department of Defense Director of Emerging Capabilities Policy, Michael Horowitz, has commented that “Autonomy and AI are not the exact same thing, but given the growing importance that [artificial intelligence] plays—and thinking about the future of war and the way the department has been thinking about [it],” it is important that any active directive reflects these concerns.

Of course, this update is necessary because the world has seen major technological breakthroughs in the past decade.  Unfortunately, the DoD only requires directives to be updated every ten years; so while many advancements have been made, the DoD has been focused on updating the directive at those times.

That said, it should be noted that the military does not currently operate any type of weapon system that would qualify as an “autonomous weapon;” at least, not when based on the existing definition of autonomous weapon as inscribed within DoD directive 3000.09.  According to the department, an “autonomous weapon” is any autonomous (or semi-autonomous) arms system that can independently select a target and then choose to apply either lethal or non-lethal force without any human direction or command.