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“The Nature, Importance, and Difficulty of Machine Ethics”

In a recent book [Arkin 09], Arkin forwarded the research hypothesis that autonomous systems could ultimately operate more humanely than human warfighters are able to. As part of the research to test this thesis funded by the Army Research Office, an ethical architecture for an autonomous system was developed with the intent to enforce the principles derived from the Laws of War (LOW), thus having the goal of enhancing noncombatant safety and survivability. Both a deontological (rights-based) perspective as encoded within the LOW (e.g., the Geneva Conventions) and a utilitarian (consequentialist) perspective (e.g., for the calculation of proportionality1 relative to military necessity as derived from the Principle of Double Effect2 ), are considered. While the ethical architectural design is believed generalizable to other non-lethal domains such as personal robotics, we nonetheless present the current implementation in the context of military operations for this article.