• Elsa Kania

China at the UN GGE on LAWS

Updated: May 29, 2018

On April 13th, China’s delegation to United Nations Group of Governmental Experts (UN GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) announced the "desire to negotiate and conclude" a new Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) protocol in order "to ban the use of fully autonomous lethal weapons systems." Reportedly, the delegation emphasized that such a ban would be "limited to use only."

China's position paper for this UN GGE, released on April 11, specified that LAWS "should be understood as fully autonomous," while including a highly specific delineation of their characteristics:

For comparison, China's first position paper for the UN GGE, released in 2016, was considerably vaguer about the conceptualization of LAWS.

Interestingly, the latest definition is much more stringent than the Chinese military’s own definition of the concept of “artificial intelligence weapon” (人工智能武器). According to the dictionary of People’s Liberation Army Military Terminology (中国人民解放军军语), an AI weapon is “a weapon that utilizes AI to automatically (自动) pursue, distinguish, and destroy enemy targets; often composed of information collection and management systems, knowledge base systems, assistance to decision systems, mission implementation systems, etc.,” including military robotics.

Despite its call for a "ban," China will likely remain unwilling to constrain its development of such capabilities. Moreover, a ban on "LAWS" that are defined as only those systems that are "fully" autonomous and possess the characteristics described above would seem to have very limited applicability.

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