Too often, conversations about lethal autonomous weapons (‘killer robots’ or even ‘slaughter bots’, as some describe them) create more heat than light. But as these systems proliferate, how worried should we be?

The lack of a clear definition or framework for categorising lethal autonomous weapons systems has made informed debate on the subject difficult.

The RUSI paper ‘Assessing Autonomous Weapons as a Proliferation Risk’ acknowledges that lethal autonomous systems are not all the same, and thus the likelihood and impact of their proliferation is different.

The paper’s authors consider three groups of systems: the minimum viable product (MVP) paradigm; military off-the-shelf (MOTS); and ‘boutique’ systems. All will pose problems for militaries and civil authorities. Yet while MVP systems are the most likely to spread, they remain fragile and can be countered, although Western militaries currently lack the defensive systems in depth to defeat the threat they pose. Boutique autonomous systems are far more damaging to stability, but are also more complex and expensive, and their proliferation is less likely beyond a small number of states with the organisational capacity and budgets to use them effectively.

This discussion to launch the paper will be moderated by Juliana Suess, Research Fellow for Space in the RUSI Military Sciences Team.

About the Speakers

Paul O’Neill is a senior research fellow at RUSI, where his work covers defence strategy, organisational and people aspects of defence. He co-authored the paper on AI and Trust, and is the co-host of the hugely popular Talking Strategy podcast.

Sam Cranny Evans is an expert in modern warfare, including integration, electronic warfare, AI and lethal autonomy, especially as employed in Ukraine. A former analyst for Janes and RUSI, he is now a RUSI Associate Fellow.

Dr Patricia Lewis leads the International Security programme at Chatham House.Previously she served as deputy director and scientist-in-residence at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the former Monterey Institute of International Studies; director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research; and director of the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre in London.

Joining Instructions

This invitation is for RUSI Members only. The event will take place at RUSI, 61 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2ET.

A drinks reception will follow between 17:50 and 19:00. If you have any questions regarding this event, please email [email protected].