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One of the several reasons given in calls for the prohibition of autonomous weapons systems (AWS) is that they are against human dignity (Asaro in Int Rev Red Cross 94(886):687–709, 2012; Docherty in Shaking the foundations: the human rights implications of killer robots, Human Rights Watch, New York, 2014; Heyns in S Afr J Hum Rights 33(1):46–71, 2017; Ulgen in Human dignity in an age of autonomous weapons: are we in danger of losing an ‘elementary consideration of humanity’? 2016). However there have been criticisms of the reliance on human dignity in arguments against AWS (Birnbacher in Autonomous weapons systems: law, ethics, policy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2016; Pop in Autonomous weapons systems: a threat to human dignity? 2018; Saxton in (Un)dignified killer robots? The problem with the human dignity argument, 2016). This paper critically examines the relationship between human dignity and AWS. Three main types of objection to AWS are identified; (i) arguments based on technology and the ability of AWS to conform to international humanitarian law; (ii) deontological arguments based on the need for human judgement and meaningful human control, including arguments based on human dignity; (iii) consequentialist reasons about their effects on global stability and the likelihood of going to war. An account is provided of the claims made about human dignity and AWS, of the criticisms of these claims, and of the several meanings of ‘dignity’. It is concluded that although there are several ways in which AWS can be said to be against human dignity, they are not unique in this respect. There are other weapons, and other technologies, that also compromise human dignity. Given this, and the ambiguities inherent in the concept, it is wiser to draw on several types of objections in arguments against AWS, and not to rely exclusively on human dignity.
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- Autonomous weapons systems, killer robots and human dignity
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Ethics and Information Technology
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