Autonomous weapons need autonomous lawyers

With the arrival of autonomous weapons systems (AWS) on the 21st century battlefield, the nature of warfare is poised for dramatic change. Overseen by artificial intelligence (AI), fueled by terabytes of data and operating at lightning-fast speed, AWS will be the decisive feature of future military conflicts. Nonetheless, under the American way of war, AWS will operate within existing legal and policy guidelines that establish conditions and criteria for the application of force. Even as the Department of Defense (DoD) places limitations on when and how AWS may take action, the pace of new conflicts and adoption of AWS by peer competitors will ultimately push military leaders to empower AI-enabled weapons to make decisions with less and less human input. As such, timely, accurate, and context-specific legal advice during the planning and operation of AWS missions will be essential. In the face of digital-decision-making, mere human legal advisors will be challenged to keep up!

Here is more, by Colonel Walter “Frank” Coppersmith, via Air Genius Gary Leff.

p.s. What’s with the “Frank”?  How about just Frank?

p.p.s. Don’t ask about the judges.


That air genius Gary Leff strikes application of air power.

What are the chances other actors will use AWS in accordance with American ways of war?

I can see several genocidal scenarios here with murky trails to perpetrators

If you have seen this dramatization from AI pioneer Stuart Russell, or you have seen a season or two of Black Mirror, then you are aware of the possibilities of this technology:

Sounds fine to me: Let imperfect AI, by its nature, credibly randomize your strategy. The others will be scared out of their brains! :-)

p.p.p.s.: Speaking of judges, here is how an "autonomous judge" might work:

Of course, the "Name" is on account the guy's a pilot. That's what pilots do.

Yes, you are correct. "Frank" is not his actual name; it may be a nickname or a "callsign" as we call the moniker given to pilots. In either case, it's the name he prefers to go by.

Maybe that's what pilots do, but the only thing "Frank" flies is a desk---he's an Air Force Judge Advocate (attorney). Frankly, what's up with the problem with "Frank"? Colonel Walter Coppersmith isn't allowed to use "Frank" as his official first or middle name in Air Force or other official records. If he were to omit the quotation marks (and/or Walter) that would just lead to additional confusion. If his friends and colleagues call him "Frank", I think it is appropriate to include "Frank" in a published article intended for the Air Force audience.

Yes, callsigns are an Air Force culture touchstone, even for non-pilots. 'Frank' may have been given that name because of his communication method, for example. Does it seem silly to those who are not USAF? Well, that would be rude...

I agree with the "Frank" thing. Is it like that so if I ever meet this guy I can refer to him by his nickname? Why does he have such a plain nickname anyway? At least Lewis "Scooter" Libby had a nickname which invites the imagination to run with it.

Eldrick Tont "Tiger" Woods

Quotes means that it's a name you go by that isn't your legal first or middle name.

Just make an AI judge to rubber stamp the actions of our AI-enabled black ops. Neocons and other chickenhawks will love that!

I am reminded of the Star Trek episode in which wars, on some planet far off, were fought on computer but casualties were for real, as the war simulation indicated the precise number of casualties on each side, and real people (real on that planet) "voluntarily" entered the death machine. The advantage of this arrangement is that it avoided physical destruction, the disadvantage of this arrangement is that it avoided physical destruction. Absent physical destruction, the disincentives to war weren't sufficient to stop.

Each element of war has its own set of horrors that serve as a deterrence. For example, ordering the destruction of an area heavily populated with civilians. If AI makes such decisions, it avoids the human horror of having to make the decisions. How would AI take "collateral damage" into account? I suppose AI would choose the action based on a calculation of the costs and benefits, the higher the potential collateral damage the greater must be the potential benefits. Would AI agonize over making such decisions?

Who will develop the cost-benefit algorithms for AWS? Would that be economists? Benyamin Appelbaum has written a book on the world's wrongest (as opposed to oldest) profession, economics: The Economists' Hour (False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society). It's not reassuring that economists will have a hand, a very heavy hand, in the development of AWS.

Maybe Frank is quoted to distinguish a nickname from a middle name.

Amazon Web Services has a branding problem if autonomous weapons hijacks the acronym meaning =)

Indeed, similar to how the weight-loss candy Ayds had to change its name and eventually exit the market when AIDS became headline news.

Autonomous cops shoot autonomous weapons. If a bot is not identified as part of regulated militia it gets shot.

I thought that US military personnel were obliged to have make-believe nicknames in the style of Fightin' Frank. Or are make-believe nicknames confined to generals?

No time to read the links but it's not clear to me if there would be much of a distinction. The AI would, at least in one vision, have the same rules built in that governed it's choice set/response set. The "autonomous lawyer" would simply be a sub-routine within the AI.

If we separate those functions then I'm not sure where that goes. The AI will then have to some something a bit more complex perhaps, and also be designed to have some respect for some underlying legal framework it would be subject to. Humans have the ability to "apprehend" the AI for the lawyer to then represent if post action.

The bit about how others would honor any of the USA war law, or even the UN conventions, is more interesting and independent of the AI/autonomous lawyer aspects.

It is standard Air Force practice to include your "go by" name in quotation marks when it is different than your given first name. For example, if Col John Stuart Mills preferred to be called "Stewie" his signature block might read, "Col John "Stewie" Mills". This is particularly helpful when much military communication is done via email because official military email uses your given firstname.lastname as your email address.

An interesting aspect of this piece is that the author is a reservist. His civilian job is working with a software company. This highlights some of the advantages reservists can offer to the military by being able to bring their civilian experience (which active duty members might lack) to bear on current military issues.

War is apex activity; it is outside law. This is silly.

Not really. Law number 1 is not killing the ones from your team =)

In that vein law number 2 is, the law is what the winners say it is.

Blowing up a lot of your own people is a poor way to be one of the winners.

From "Frank's" article: "Fortunately, at the same time that AI is changing warfare, the practice of law is undergoing a similar AI-driven transformation. Traditional legal practice as characterized by rote document drafting and review is becoming obsolete, while AI is creating entirely new categories of legal work ..."

Frankly, that's what I was told when I started practicing law in the mid-80s, but somehow I am still busy reviewing documents.

I was tempted to write a whole reply on the inherent pun in these comments, but the criticisms would have been General and Frank.

>What’s with the “Frank”? How about just Frank?

Probably the same reason you can't say liberal elite, and instead have to say "liberal elite." Also "left-wing."

"In the face of digital-decision-making, mere human legal advisors will be challenged to keep up!"

This is offensive. An experienced OLC lawyer like Jay Bybee can rubber-stamp thousands of requests for surveillance, torture, and assassination per second. He's like the John Henry of signing off on war crimes.

The judge is a new computer system, 100% reliable, called skynet.

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