The Importance of Language: Autonomous Weapon Systems vs Weapon Systems With Autonomous Functions

By Clea Strydom 

I.  Introduction

States and corporations are utilising Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to create more ‘intelligent’ weapon systems with autonomous functions. The international community is divided on whether or not this development in technology is positive. There are many who have called for fully autonomous weapon systems to be banned;[1] while others feel that this reaction is going too far and stands in the way of ‘progressive’ development.[2] The prevalent terms used by NGOs, researchers, academics, as well as the States and International Organizations to label weapons that can perform tasks autonomously is Autonomous Weapon Systems (AWS) or Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS).[3] However, there is to date no universally accepted definition for these labels,[4] or any agreement on what constitutes such a weapon. The terms are misleading and ambiguous and often conjure up images of rogue killer robots. This article postulates that in order to have a rational debate about these weapon systems, the AWS and LAWS labels need to be discarded in favour of more accurate descriptors.

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Kept in the Dark: The Risk of Keeping COVID-19 Vaccine Patents Secret in Nationalistic Competition

By Prateek Viswanathan 

I.  Introduction

COVID-19 is scourging the world. Numerous companies from all over the world are working on drugs and vaccines,[1] and patents are currently being filed on COVID-19 vaccines.[2]  Thus far, the global search has been characterized by cooperation between companies.[3]  But some governments are engaged in a race to be the first with the vaccine.[4] Others have discussed the use of patents by private owners to create patent holdups, using the patent’s exclusionary rights to control use of the vaccine against the public interest.[5]  This article provides a background on the patent system, the secrecy order procedure, and the effects of a secrecy order, and argues that the United States may create a patent holdup situation on a COVID-19 vaccine by issuing a secrecy order.  For example, under the Invention Secrecy Act and pursuant to national security, the U.S. government may prevent disclosure of vaccines and other health technology, potentially exacerbating a nationalistic competition to find a COVID-19 vaccine.

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International Law Governance of Autonomous Weapon Systems And The Turn To Ethics

By Dr. Thompson Chengeta,

Faculty of Social Science, University of Southampton

I.  Introduction

The cutting-edge technology of autonomous weapon systems (AWS) – robotic weapons that once activated, are able to make the decision as to who to target or harm without any further human intervention or control[1] – presents several legal, ethical, and security challenges.  There is no agreement among states on how this emerging technology should be governed. Do we need new laws or are existing ones adequate?  If existing laws are inadequate to govern AWS, should the international community turn to ethics to fill the gaps? These are the questions that are answered in this piece.

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