Ethics of the drone war

The Atlantic has a long but engrossing piece on the impact of military and intelligence robotics on the ethics of combat.

To be fair, it goes way beyond just robots and also discusses implants, digital enhancements and cybernetics. And if it sounds a bit science-fiction, it’s looking at already available or just-over-the-horizon technology and sticks with hard-nosed implications.

One more human weak-link is that robots may likely have better situational awareness, if they’re outfitted with sensors that can let them see in the dark, through walls, networked with other computers, and so on. This raises the following problem: Could a robot ever refuse a human order, if it knows better?

For instance, if a human orders a robot to shoot a target or destroy a safehouse, but it turns out that the robot identifies the target as a child or a safehouse full of noncombatants, could it refuse that order?

Does having the technical ability to collect better intelligence before we conduct a strike obligate us to do everything we can to collect that data? That is, would we be liable for not knowing things that we might have known by deploying intelligence-gathering robots?

It’s a long-read but well worth it as the piece looks at the impact of cutting-edge war technology on everything from humanitarian law to winning the hearts and minds of the local population.
 

Link to The Atlantic ‘Drone-Ethics Briefing’.

3 Comments

  1. Uncle B
    Posted December 19, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    “War” is really misleading and means many things to many people. Asian financiers for example have entrapped the American Economy, own a “Controlling Interest” in America, and in fact, together with other world financiers are forcing a “Controlled Demolition” of the U.S. fiat “Funny money” dollar as we speak. China has won a war on the economic battlefield of the world, against the U.S.A. in the past two decades. America was well prepared for her definition of “confrontation” a WWII styled battlefield, even provoked such troubles in this world, but nobody else showed up with similar “War Toys” to do a battle as defined by Americans? What of the superior intelligence used to take a U.S. spy drone down in Iran? Lessons learned? Hell No! American warlords calling it a once in a lifetime fluke, claiming they did it deliberately due to malfunctions and a thousand other, after the fact rationalizations! Truth is: The Pan Eurasian Alliances and the rapidly forming new Pan Eurasian Empire forming there are not to be toyed with, not even by blustering American warlords. U.S.A, has had its military ass kicked hard.

  2. Joss
    Posted December 22, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    I have been using the example of the development of drone technology to highlight that scientists should have to consider ethics in an argument with a friend who thinks that if scientists have to think about ethical consequences they can’t do pure science.

    We both studied philosphy and her husband used to work with a man who was developing ‘flocking drones’.

    My concern with the technology is that those who can utilise it are bombing nations they are not at war with.

    The USA is not ‘at war’ with Pakistan as far as I am aware but is bombing there with drones.

    I worry where the limits of such behaviours are.

  3. Posted December 29, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    it would be interesting to hear the point of view of those who actually pull the triggers …. are they happy in their work ? … do any of them request transfers to less controversial postings ? … etc etc


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