Prototype Warfare CEL Project

We are excited to announce our new Community Engaged Learning project under the Prototype Warfare programme.

What is the Prototype Warfare project?

Prototype Warfare is a collaborative research project run by Intimacies of Remote Warfare and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam’s Deadly Design. The project combines open-source desk research with in-depth stakeholder interviews to explore the development and deployment of algorithmic technologies by the Dutch Ministry of Defence.

The subject of algorithms within warfare, and in particular the resulting implications of autonomy in various stages of the ‘kill chain’, has become a core concern on the international agenda in recent years. The dystopian sci-fi prospect of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) has become a lightning rod for criticism, debate and regulation of autonomy in military technologies. Limiting attention to this topic risks artificially narrowing the focus of research and advocacy. We adopt a broader lens, looking at the use of algorithmic technologies and autonomous systems in ‘upstream’ stages of the kill chain, including in surveillance, object classification and insight generation (sense-making), and targeting (decision-making) processes.

Working with societal partners including the Adviesraad Internationale Vraagstukken (whose recent report on LAWS is attached), we see a need for greater technical clarity and understanding of these technologies among both (conflict studies) scholars, policy-makers, and military personnel themselves. To achieve this, we embark on an in-depth mapping of the machine learning algorithmic technologies currently being developed, acquired and deployed within security and warfare. This research phase will focus on actor perspectives across the entire developmental assemblage, including, for example, military decision-makers, technical developers (both commercial start-ups and university working groups), political decision-makers, NGO advocacy groups and conflict/security analysis experts.

This research will be used to inform a public panel discussion bringing together representatives of these various actors to debate the topic of algorithmic technologies and autonomous systems in warfare. The AIV report will be the central object to orient debate, with the intention of cutting through the powerful imaginaries surrounding these technologies to bring out the realities of their development and deployment.

Provisionally we envisage the research phase running from March – May 2022, with the public panel discussion taking place in June 2022. There is a significant degree of flexibility in designing the internships, with room to incorporate students’ own ideas and interests as appropriate, and so these ideas should be interpreted as a starting point for the project.