Towards a Value Sensitive Design Framework for Attaining Meaningful Human Control over Autonomous Weapons Systems

Dissertation, Consortium FINO (2021)
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The international debate on the ethics and legality of autonomous weapon systems (AWS) as well as the call for a ban are primarily focused on the nebulous concept of fully autonomous AWS. More specifically, on AWS that are capable of target selection and engagement without human supervision or control. This thesis argues that such a conception of autonomy is divorced both from military planning and decision-making operations as well as the design requirements that govern AWS engineering and subsequently the tracking and tracing of moral responsibility. To do this, this thesis marries two different levels of meaningful human control (MHC), termed levels of abstraction, to couple military operations with design ethics. In doing so, this thesis argues that the contentious notion of ‘full’ autonomy is not problematic under this two-tiered understanding of MHC. It proceeds to propose the value sensitive design (VSD) approach as a means for designing for MHC.

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Steven Umbrello
Delft University of Technology


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