Warring with Machines: Military Applications of Artificial Intelligence and the Relevance of Virtue Ethics

Warring with Machines: Military Applications of Artificial Intelligence and the Relevance of Virtue Ethics
Photo: Pixabay
Led by Gregory M. Reichberg
Jan 2020 - Dec 2023

Artificial intelligence plays an ever-expanding role in the context of war. This project aims to determine how the moral integrity and agency of military personnel may be preserved and enhanced when artificial intelligence is implemented in practices of war. 

​The project will pursue this goal from the perspective of virtue ethics, philosophy of action and mind, and applied military ethics, in close dialogue with institutional stakeholders as well as technologists and representatives from cognitive neuroscience. 

The research questions are approached within a theoretical framework broadly aligned with virtue ethics. Virtue ethics focuses on the moral evaluation of the dispositions and character traits of agents in context.

Its three main research questions are as follows:

  1. How does AI technology change the way we think about the moral character of military personnel?
  2. How can we understand the nature of AI technology/tools, and how do these tools change the moral and psychological conditions for virtuous behavior?
  3. What does "virtuous human-AI interaction" mean in different parts of the military?

The project aims to yield a set of moral precepts guiding the use of AI-technology within three settings: kinetic combat operations, cyber operations, and strategic planning. These precepts will serve as conceptual pillars for formulating policies bearing on the design and use of AI-related weapons systems.

The project involves collaboration between leading national and international research institutions, inter alia the Center for Philosophy and the Sciences at the University of Oslo, the Center for Artificial Intelligence Research at the University of Agder, the Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership at the US Naval Academy, and the Munich Center for Neurosciences – Brain & Mind at Ludwig Maximillian University.

Project leader

  • Greg Reichberg

Project members at PRIO 

  • Henrik Syse
  • Mareile Kaufmann
  • Sigurd Hovd–Ph.D Researcher
  • Neven Ahmad–Research Assistant

External project members

  • David M. Barnes, US Military Academy West Point
  • Edward Barrett, US Naval Academy
  • Einar Bøhn, Center for AI Research (University of Agder)
  • James L. Cook, US Air Force Academy
  • Martin Cook, US Naval War College 
  • Ophelia Deroy, Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich
  • Shannon French, Case Western Reserve University
  • Kirsi Helkala, Norwegian Defense University College
  • George Lucas,  US Naval Academy
  • Kaushik Roy, Jadavpur University (Kolkata, India)
  • Zoe Stanley-Lockman, Nanyang Technological University (Singapore)
  • Shannon Vallor,  University of Edinburgh
  • Sebastian Watzl, Center for Philosophy and the Sciences (University of Oslo)