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Life and Death by Bugs: International Law, Transgression, and Swarming ‘Insect Drones’

Conference contribution
Authors Matilda Arvidsson
Published in Eggs, Milk and Honey: Law and Global Bio-commodities (Workshop 6-7 September, Western Sydney. University, Australia)
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Law
Language en
Keywords International Humanitarian Law, Artificial Intelligence (AI), swarm technology, insects
Subject categories International law


During the last fifty-odd years the U.S. military research agency, DARPA, has launched programs aiming at enhancing, imitating and incorporating insects, insect biomass and insect technologies in military intelligence and combat. An example is the Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (HI-MEMS) program of 2005, and the U.S. Army Unmanned Aircrafts Systems Roadmap 2010–2035 specified insect swarming capacities as field of development for Unmanned Aviation Systems (UAS). While legal scholarship has paid substantial attention to new military technologies such as drones, autonomous weapons systems (AWS), and artificial intelligence (AI) – developments in this field based on insects has been largely ignored. This paper takes the insect and insect-simulating swarming technologies in military combat as its starting point. It asks what significance the insect has as a figure of technologies superior to those of the human animal and as a means for human domination, exploitation, and of killing. Drawing on contemporary debates on subjectivity under international as well as new orientations in accountability for crimes committed in wartimes, the paper seeks to contribute to a posthuman turn in international humanitarian law.

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