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Autonomous Systems

Autonomous weapons systems (AWS) are poised to transform U.S. military operations in ways that challenge current policies and strategic planning, while raising foundational questions about the meaning and practice of armed conflict. These emerging technologies are driven by a variety of interconnected advances in machine learning, artificial intelligence, precision munitions, improved sensors, human-machine teaming, and robotics. AWS provide extraordinary military capabilities. However, the technologies are advancing so rapidly that they threaten to outpace our ability to effectively address their ethical, legal, and social impact. Furthermore, the pace of AWS innovation combined with the broader social impact of these advances may well become a flash point for controversies and crises that could negatively impact US security capabilities and preparedness. Within this context, innovative research on AWS is essential to guide social discourse and policy, and to serve the needs of the U.S. national security community. With a team of scholars from Mason, Arizona State University, New America, US Naval Academy, and US Army War College, this project seeks to inform the policy and development of AWS .  


Edward Barrett (United States Naval Academy)

C. Anthony Pfaff (United States Army War College)

Daniel Rothenberg (Arizona State University and New America)

Peter W. Singer (New America)

Andrew Peterson (Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy)

Jesse Kirkpatrick (Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy and New America )

Sara Usher (Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy)

Sarah W .Denton (Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy)

Michael Flynn (Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy)


New America and Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy (2017-Present) 


Kirkpatrick, J. and Sarah Welch Denton. “The Future of War and Terrorism” in Michael Bess and Diana Walsh Pasulka (eds.) Posthumanism: The Future of Homo Sapiens. Macmillan Reference USA (2018).

Peterson, A, Kirkpatrick, J, Boehm-Davis, DA. Developing ethical, legal, and policy analyses relevant to the use of machine learning algorithms in national security. (Submitted to the National Academies Social and Behavioral Sciences Decadal Survey on behavioral sciences and national security. 2017; White Paper).


Kirkpatrick, J., Erin Hahn, and Amy Haufler. “Trust in Human-Robot Interactions,” in Patrick Lin, George Bekey, Keith Abney, and Ryan Jenkins (eds.) Robot Ethics 2.0. Oxford University Press. (2017).



Kirkpatrick, J. Sci-Fi, Lethal Autonomous Weapons, and Space. Escape Velocity Convention, National Harbor, Maryland, May 25, 2018.

Kirkpatrick, J. AI, Autonomy, and Lethal Weapons. Dupont Summit, Washington, DC, December 1, 2017.


Kirkpatrick, J. AI, Autonomy, and Virtue in Future War. U.S. Army Mad Scientist Conference: Visioning Multi Domain Battle in 2030-2050, Georgetown University, July 25, 2017.


Kirkpatrick, J. Ethics and the Future of War. Panelist, U.S. Army Mad Scientist Conference: Visioning Multi Domain Battle in 2030-2050, Georgetown University, July 25, 2017​.


Full Research Team. Workshop: Regulating Autonomous Weapons Systems, New America, May 23, 2017.


Kirkpatrick, J. Responsible Robotics: Shaping a future with robots worth wanting. Rotman Institute for Philosophy, March 15, 2017.


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