Sanjana Karnik

Thesis title: The regulation of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in warfare

Start year: 2020


Supervisor(s): Chara Bakalis, Dr Michael John-Hopkins

Research topic

LAWS are autonomous weapons that can assist in carrying out computer-network, conventional kinetic attacks and espionage. Currently, the future of warfare predominantly focuses on incorporating AI and machine learning that will give the weapons the ability to select and interact with a target with little or no human intervention. However, such weapons are not regulated under any treaty, giving states the freedom to use them according to their will. Without implementing any control, LAWS can be used to commit war crimes, crimes against humanity and human rights violations. Due to their unrestricted use, they can cause indiscriminate harm and unnecessary suffering of innocent people leading to catastrophic results. Today, powerful states continue to invest their resources in LAWS and AI development without focusing on how they will be regulated legally and ethically. The PhD aims to address this regulatory gap by suggesting guidelines for the use of LAWS in warfare. It will survey existing regulation with an aim to find an optimal approach for regulating LAWS. The purpose of such recommendations will be to discuss broader issues like the transfer, proliferation, usage, design, manufacturing of LAWS, ethical issues and the private sector’s active participation. The PhD will ultimately demonstrate that specific guidelines for LAWS are achievable and is indeed the need of the hour.


Autonomous Weapons Systems, Laws of war, ethics, Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, regulation, guidelines, private sector

General research interests

Policymaking, national and international regulatory system, Artificial Intelligence, robots used for warfare, laws of war, proliferation, transfer and use of weapons

Academic school / department

School of Law and Social Sciences

Further details

Academic and professional training

  • University of Liverpool LLB (Hons) 2014
  • University of Law `(LPC) 2015
  • City, University of London (LLM) International Human Rights law 2016

Scholarship and prizes

  • University of Liverpool Regional Award £1000
  • City Law School - Academic excellence for business and the professions (Certificate for Highest Distinction level mark in International Criminal Law: Crimes, Courts & Trials

Other experience and professional activities

  • Director at London Legalist (2017-20)
  • Volunteer at Personal Support Unit (Royal Courts of Justice) 2017
  • Volunteer at Start-ed Legal Law Clinic (City Law School) 2016