Military Use of AI: Japan Should Take Initiative in Making International Rules

Who would want to leave the decision about whether to take a human life to weapons equipped with artificial intelligence (AI)? Measures must be implemented urgently to prevent killings through AI.

AI-based weapons have been already put into use on the battlefield.

Amid Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the militaries of both countries have conducted drone attacks using AI technology that selects targets. The Israeli military reportedly has also used similar AI weapons to identify fighters of the Islamist group Hamas in the Palestinian territory of the Gaza Strip.

Drones equipped with AI have the advantage of saving manpower, as they do not require remote control. Such drones also can quickly collect and analyze vast amounts of information on the battlefield, and the information can be used for operational purposes.

It is said that AI is currently used in weapons up to the stage of selecting targets, but that human beings decide whether to attack. However, it is highly likely that lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) — in which AI even makes the decision to attack targets without human involvement — will appear in the near future.

Once activated, LAWS will be completely free from human control. If AI weapons make a wrong judgment, they could cause unintended, devastating damage — for example, from an erroneous bombing and indiscriminate attack.

The practical use of LAWS is absolutely unacceptable from both a humanitarian and an ethical point of view.

In December last year, the United Nations adopted a General Assembly resolution calling on member states to report their views on LAWS.

In response, Japan submitted to the United Nations a document stating that it does not intend to develop LAWS, and that the development and use of such weapons systems must not be permitted internationally, either.

The United Nations plans to compile a report this summer after consolidating the views of member states, including Japan.

The international community has discussed possible regulations on LAWS for the past decade, but there have been wide differences among member states, making an agreement quite distant.

Developing countries and other nations have called for a total ban on LAWS development, but Russia, Israel and others involved in the development of AI weapons have been reluctant to prohibit development through a treaty. The United States has argued that a moderate code of conduct for LAWS should be established first, and development restricted by a treaty at some later time.

It is said that LAWS, which are likely to drastically change the nature of warfare, could bring about a military revolution that is historically comparable to nuclear weapons.

As the only country struck by atomic bombs, Japan should stress the importance of regulating inhumane weapons and take the lead in creating international rules. Whether LAWS will be regulated by a code of conduct or a treaty, it is hoped that the framework of the regulations will involve the participation of many military powers, in order to ensure its effectiveness.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 7, 2024)