Killer Robots?

Military drones and autonomous weapons focus of experts' talk at SMU March 3

RobotDALLAS (SMU) – Lethal autonomous weapons systems, a.k.a. “killer robots,” were once the stuff of sci-fi thrillers. But technological advancements in unmanned weaponry (like drones) have created some very real strategic, legal and ethical dilemmas for policymakers and military/government leaders.

To sort out those issues, three internationally respected armed conflict experts will assemble for “Killer Robots,” a free public discussion sponsored by the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies on Thursday, March 3, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at McCord Auditorium, third floor of Dallas Hall, 3225 University Blvd. Advance reservations are requested by emailing

“Some say it’s unethical to put lethal force in the hands of autonomous systems, because no computer algorithm should be able to make decisions about killing,” says event moderator Joshua Rovner, SMU Tower Center Distinguished Chair of International Politics and National Security and author of the award-winning book, Fixing the Facts: National Security and the Politics of Intelligence (Cornell University Press, 2011).

“On the other hand, robots can be programmed to be very careful about where and when to fire, resulting in fewer innocent civilians caught in the crossfire,” he adds. “Robots also are free of the nastier human emotions ­– rage, hatred, the desire for revenge – that lead to atrocities.”

Guest speakers for the event:

  • Christopher JenksChristopher Jenks, SMU Dedman School of Law assistant professor and director of the Criminal Justice Clinic, teaches and writes on the law of armed conflict and criminal justice. 

    He recently spent six months in Australia where, as a Fulbright Scholar working with the Asia Pacific Centre for Military Law in Melbourne, he researched how emerging technologies impact accountability in armed conflict.

    The widely published scholar is co-author of a textbook that examines the law of armed conflict, co-editor of a forthcoming war crimes casebook and a peer reviewer for The Tallinn Manual on the international law applicable to cyber warfare. Jenks also speaks at universities and institutes around the world and is a leading military consultant. For his recent Social Science Research Network (SSRN) article, “False Rubicons, Moral Panic & Conceptual Cul-De-Sacs: Critiquing & Reframing the Call to Ban Lethal Automatic Weapons,” see

    Prior to joining SMU, Lt. Col. Jenks spent more than 20 years in the U.S. Army, ultimately serving as chief of the International Law Branch of the Office of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) in the Pentagon.

    The Bronze Star-recipient is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, the University of Arizona College of Law, the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center & School and Georgetown University Law School.


  • Michael C. HorowitzMichael C. Horowitz, associate professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, focuses on military innovation, the future of war, forecasting, the role of leaders in international politics, and the relationship between religion and international politics. 

    He is author of the award-winning book, The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics (Princeton University Press, 2010) and co-wrote the new book Why Leaders Fight (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

    Horowitz, an investigator on the Good Judgment Project, spent 2013 working for the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy in the Department of Defense as an International Affairs Fellow. He is affiliated with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for a New American Security. Horowitz holds a Ph.D. in government from Harvard and a B.A. in political science from Emory University.

For more details about the Tower Center see or call 214-768-3954. Follow them on Twitter @SMUTowerCenter and on Facebook at

About SMU

Southern Methodist University is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls approximately 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.

About the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies

In the spirit of John Tower’s commitment to educate and inspire a new generation of thoughtful leaders, the Tower Center seeks to bridge the gap between the world of ideas, scholarship and teaching, as well as the practice of politics. The primary mission of the Tower Center is to promote the study of politics and international affairs and to stimulate an interest in ethical public service among undergraduates. The Tower Center is an academic center where all parties and views are heard in a marketplace of ideas, and the Center pursues its mission in a non-partisan manner.


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