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This is a study on the ethical, legal, and societal issues relating to the research on, development of, and use of rapidly changing technologies with low barriers of entry that have potential military application, such as information technologies, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology. The report also considers the ethical issues associated with robotics and autonomous systems, prosthetics and human enhancement, and cyber weapons. These technologies are characterized by readily available knowledge access, technological advancements that can take place in months instead of years, the blurring of lines between basic research and applied research, and a high uncertainty about how the future trajectories of these technologies will evolve and what applications will be possible.
This study addresses topics such as the ethics of using autonomous weapon that may be available in the future; the propriety of enhancing the physical or cognitive capabilities of soldiers with drugs or implants or prosthetics; and what limits, if any, should be placed on the nature and extent of economic damage that cyber weapons can cause. This report explores three areas with respect to emerging and rapidly available technologies: the conduct of research; research applications; and unanticipated, unforeseen, or inadvertent ethical, legal, and societal issues. The report articulates a framework for policy makers, institutions, and individual researchers to think about issues as they relate to these technologies of military relevance and makes recommendations for how each of these groups should approach these considerations in its research activities.