"Death by Algorithm: The Use, Control, and Legality of Lethal and Other Autonomous Weapons Systems" - April 25, 2024

USTPC HotTopic Panel on Autonomous Weapons

Once considered science fiction, autonomous weapons systems long ago left the drawing board for the battlefield. Employed in conflicts today, such systems remain controversial and are ungoverned by any broad binding international agreement. The ACM US Technology Policy Committee hosted the HotTopics webinar: "Death by Algorithm: The Use, Control, and Legality of Lethal and Other Autonomous Weapons Systems" with Larry Medsker (Moderator), Ronald C. Arkin, Gary Corn, Jack Shanahan, and Jody Westby discussing this timely and critical subject. The program explored:

  • The integration of autonomous weapon systems into military and intelligence operations, including lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS)
  • The role of artificial intelligence
  • The use of autonomous weapons in ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza will be discussed, as well as approaches to risk management for AI-enabled military systems
  • US legal considerations, including DoD regulations, and legal obligations under international humanitarian law, and the laws of armed conflict
  • The role of normative frameworks, such as the recent Political Declaration on the Responsible Military Use of Artificial Intelligence and Autonomy, put forward by the U.S. and endorsed by 52 countries


Larry Medsker (Moderator) chairs ACM’s US Technology Policy Committee and is Research Professor of Physics at the University of Vermont. Previously Medsker was a Research Professor of Physics at The George Washington University in Washington, DC, and Founding Director of its Master’s Program in Data Science. He also previously served as Dean and Professor of Computer Science at the Siena College School of Science, where he co-founded the Siena Institute for Artificial Intelligence. Prior to that he served at American University as Chair of Computer Science & Information Systems and Associate Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. Medsker’s research in AI includes work on artificial neural networks and hybrid intelligent systems. He also serves as Co-Editor-in-Chief of AI and Ethics, Associate Editor of Neural Computing and Applications and Policy Officer for ACM’s Special Interest Group on Artificial Intelligence (SIGAI). He has authored over 100 published articles and four books.

Ronald C. Arkin is Regents' Professor Emeritus in the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, where he also served as Associate Dean for Research. He served as STINT visiting Professor at KTH in Stockholm, Sabbatical Chair at the Sony IDL in Tokyo, member of the Robotics and AI Group at LAAS/CNRS in Toulouse, and in Brisbane Australia at Queensland University of Technology and CSIRO. Arkin's research interests include behavior-based control and action-oriented perception for mobile robots and UAVs, deliberative/ reactive architectures, robot survivability, multiagent robotics, biorobotics, human-robot interaction, machine deception, robot ethics, and learning in autonomous systems. His books include Behavior-Based RoboticsRobot Colonies, and Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots. He has provided expert testimony to the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Pentagon and others on autonomous systems technology.

Gary Corn is the Director of the Technology, Law & Security Program and an Adjunct Professor of Cyber and National Security Law at American University Washington College of Law. A recognized expert on the intersection of cyber and national security law and policy, Corn joined TLS after serving 26 years on active duty in the US Army as a military attorney practicing national security law at the highest levels within the Department of Defense. His final five years he served as the Staff Judge Advocate (General Counsel) to US Cyber Command. He has published numerous articles, book chapters, and blog posts, including in the American Journal of Inter­national Law, The Temple International and Comparative Law Journal, the Texas International Law Journal, the Vanderbilt Journal of Trans­national Law, Lawfare, Just Security, and the Lieber Institute’s Articles of War. He has contributed chapters to several Oxford University Press books and is a co-author of National Security Law and the Constitution (Wolters Kluwer, 2020).

During his military career, Corn served in various positions at the brigade, division, and corps level, including multiple times as a military prosecutor, civil litigator, and operational law attorney. His assignments included serving as a Deputy Legal Counsel to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Operational Law Branch Chief in the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Army, the Staff Judge Advocate to US Army South, a Special Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Columbia, and on deployment as the Chief of International Law for Combined Forces Command in Afghanistan.

Jack Shanahan, Lieutenant General, United States Air Force (Ret.), retired from military service in 2020 after a 36-year military career. In his final assignment he served as the inaugural Director of the US Department of Defense (DoD) Joint Artificial Center (JAIC). Shanahan served in a variety of operational and staff positions in various fields including flying, intelligence, policy, and command and control. He commanded at the squadron, group, wing, Agency, and Numbered Air Force levels. He also established and led the DoD’s program charged with bringing AI capabilities to intelligence collection and analysis. He is currently Adjunct Senior Fellow with the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Technology and National Security Program, and a member of the CNAS Defense Technology Task Force. He serves as a Commissioner on the Atlantic Council Software-Defined Warfare Commission, and as an advisor to the Special Competitive Studies Project (SCSP) Defense Panel. Shanahan serves on a variety of AI-related commit¬tees, boards, and advisory groups, and as a consultant on the use of AI-enabled technologies for national security.

Jody Westby is the Vice Chair of ACM’s US Technology Policy Committee. She founded Global Cyber Risk LLC in 2000, which provides advisory and technical services to organizations in the areas of cyber governance, privacy, cybersecurity, incident response, and digital asset inventories and data mapping. Ms. Westby is also a professional blogger for Forbes and writes a regular column for Leader’s Edge magazine on cybersecurity issues. She also serves as Chair of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Privacy and Computer Crime Committee (Science & Technology Law Section) and co-Chair of the Cybercrime Committee (Criminal Justice Section) and has served four terms on the ABA President’s Cybersecurity Task Force. She co-Chaired the World Federation of Scientists’ (WFS) Permanent Monitoring Panel on Information Security and served on the ITU Secretary-General’s High Level Experts Group on Cybersecurity.

Westby is the author of seven books (all published by the American Bar Association), including most recently a D&O Guide to Cyber Governance: Fiduciary Duties in the Digital Age. Previously, she led the development of the International Toolkit on Cybercrime Legislation and was editor and co-author of the 2010 UN publica­tion The Quest for Cyber Peace. She also launched In-Q-Tel for the CIA, was senior managing director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, was senior fellow and director of IT Studies for the Progress and Freedom Foundation, and was director of domestic policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.