Emerging Technologies and the Chemical Weapons Convention: Autonomous Systems and Artificial Intelligence

The Hague, 30 November 2015. Participants of the twentieth session of the Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) were briefed in the margins of the Conference on the past, present and likely future developments in robotics and the technological trend toward increasingly autonomous or artificially intelligent systems. The event, which was organized by UNICRI together with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Hague Security Delta (HSD), took place in the seat of the OPCW in the city of The Hague.

From the outset, participating experts recognized that the technological advancements being made in this field by the academic community and the private sector may have considerable benefits for the OPCW in its work in terms of chemical weapons non-proliferation, and indeed for the chemical sciences in general. The Deputy Director General of the OPCW, Mr. Hamid Ali Rao, specifically observed that autonomous technologies could appreciably bolster implementation of the CWC by, for example, by contributing to chemical detection capabilities in areas that are too dangerous for inspectors to operate.

Nonetheless, experts warned about the duality of technologies and highlighted that such advances simultaneously expose security gaps and vulnerabilities that could be exploited by criminal or terrorist actors. Many of these gaps and vulnerabilities have yet to be fully understood. Moving from the short- to the long-term, it was also recognized that advancements in the direction of Artificial General Intelligence or Artificial Super-Intelligence may even pose societal risks of an existential nature.

Ms. Ida Haisma, Director of the Hague Security Delta, observed that keeping up-to-date with these and other technological developments will be vital if the international security sector is to succeed in converting these challenges into opportunities and strike a balance between the positive and potentially negative impacts of these technologies.

In this respect, UNICRI Director, Dr. Cindy Smith, underlined that to do so “will require a multi-disciplinary and multi-perspective approach. It will require the knowledge and expertise of various stakeholders, including scientists, engineers, academics, policy-makers, security specialists and the private sector. A balancing of needs and interests, as well as increased dialogue and collaboration is also crucial.” Ms. Smith added that with this meeting, the first step in this direction had been taken and hoped that participants would continue to earnestly and openly discuss these issues.

The Conference of States Parties will continue until 4 December 2015.

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