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War and peace: dual-use technologies divide

New technologies, developed to improve our society, are increasingly being used to wage war. Switzerland, which leads the development of autonomous drones, is very much affected by this phenomenon. But regulating it is very difficult and requires a joint effort by the international community – a tall order when interests collide.

The war in Ukraine has emphasised that all innovations can have both civilian and military applications.

It’s a two-way street that has significantly improved our lives. Thanks to military innovation, humankind has been able to benefit from inventions that we can no longer do without, such as the internet, GPS or digital cameras. But these days, it is increasingly civilian research feeding the military, rather than the other way round, especially in emerging fields such as robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).

In Switzerland, this phenomenon is becoming increasingly controversial. In fact, the federal government is leading the development of autonomous drones and machine learning and recognition systems, two technologies that fuel lethal autonomous weapons or killer robots. I wrote about this in my recently published article.

Are international talks DOA?

Although international humanitarian law applies to all types of weapons, the use of emerging technologies – particularly those driven by AI – is not explicitly regulated by any agreement. The United Nations and other international organisations are pushing for a binding international treaty prohibiting autonomous weapon systems. In JulyExternal link, a meeting of experts from various countries will be held in Geneva to try to advance negotiations along these lines. But there are already rumours that it will be a washout.

Countries such as the United States, Russia, Turkey, South Korea, Israel and the United Kingdom are opposed to a ban on lethal autonomous weapons. All these states are investing heavily in this technology. Switzerland, as always, takes a more moderate stance: although it considers it necessary to develop binding regulations, it is against a total ban, because it believes that this would also limit research and ban technologies that could be useful for the general population.

You can read more in the article that my colleague Sibilla BondolfiExternal link and I wrote on this subject.

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SWI – the international service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). Since 1999, has fulfilled the federal government’s mandate to distribute information about Switzerland internationally, supplementing the online offerings of the radio and television stations of the SBC. Today, the international service is directed above all at an international audience interested in Switzerland, as well as at Swiss citizens living abroad.
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