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IEET > Security > Cyber > Military > Staff > Marcelo Rinesi

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I Want Autonomous Killer Drones: A Personal View


Marcelo Rinesi
By Marcelo Rinesi
Ethical Technology

Posted: Dec 5, 2012

They are a not a great idea in absolute terms, but they are not worse, and can be made better, than the human-in-the-loop status quo.

Nb. This is a personal opinion piece, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the position of the IEET. For a contrasting opinion, read an article at io9 from IEET Fellow George Dvorsky about a proposed Executive Order Establishing Limits on Autonomous Weapons Capable of Initiating Lethal Force drafted by IEET Fellow Wendell Wallach from the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics (Wallach will be a panelist in the Dec. 10 Terminating the Terminator discussion panel).

One of arguments most frequently used against Lethal Autonomous Systems (I’ll use the vernacular “autonomous killer drones”) is their lack of built-in ethical constraints. It is often suggested that we must develop and implement robust ethical self-control systems prior to deploying any autonomous killer drone. The counterargument is obvious: have you seen what already happens in human-driven battlefields? Empirically, soldiers’ ethical constraints are anything but foolproof (naturally so, given their training and the context of war); there’s no reason to think even buggy software will be worse, and software, at least, can be debugged and improved.

A more indirect argument along the same lines is that, by removing humans from the “trigger” — which these days is as digitally mediated as any program would be — there isn’t a direct focus of responsibility, which might make atrocities easier. But despite (to put a naive spin on it) official policy in developed armies, civilian collateral deaths and maiming occur all the time, and seldom if ever do the trigger-pushers, or their commanding officers, face charges. This is not to say that atrocities are ubiquitous; they aren’t, but it’s not the presence of a human pressing the trigger what limits them, or what fails when they do happen.

Perhaps the emotional underpinning to our resistance to autonomous killer drones is simply that we are used to humans killing humans; creating another entity with a certain level of perceived agency (as if standard self-guided missiles didn’t already run complex algorithms) with the capability to kill us feels somehow as adding a completely new danger, even if in absolute terms your likelihood of death hasn’t changed. This sort of ecological self-protection is understandable, but lacks sense once it’s made explicit: if you’re being killed, that it was a fellow human who did it is scant consolation.

Ultimately, the problem of having a killer drone flying over your head is nothing but the problem of having a killer anything flying over your head. The fact of killing by specifically trained and organized groups of people with the explicit backing of their societies is where has always lied, and should continue to lay, the locus of ethical concern.


Marcelo Rinesi is the Assistant Director of the IEET. He is also a Data Analyst at Zauber.
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COMMENTS


“A more indirect argument along the same lines is that, by removing humans from the “trigger” — which these days is as digitally mediated as any program would be — there isn’t a direct focus of responsibility, which might make atrocities easier. But despite (to put a naive spin on it) official policy in developed armies, civilian collateral deaths and maiming occur all the time, and seldom if ever do the trigger-pushers, or their commanding officers, face charges. This is not to say that atrocities are ubiquitous; they aren’t, but it’s not the presence of a human pressing the trigger what limits them, or what fails when they do happen.”

“Ultimately, the problem of having a killer drone flying over your head is nothing but the problem of having a killer anything flying over your head. The fact of killing by specifically trained and organized groups of people with the explicit backing of their societies is where has always lied, and should continue to lay, the locus of ethical concern.”


The dangers are that the sanction of using drones for combat zones, and possibly even for mild civil unrest and disorder becomes commonplace? I’m not saying that it will necessarily, yet when nations or the UN send troops to control combat zones there is great political dissection of the consequences, benefits and costing of such, and where drones will be readily available and not just cost effective but “cheap”, then there may be increased use of such weapons where formally UN sanctions would customarily be applied long-term?

Think about civil unrest in the middle east, especially in Syria - it is likely that Syria would invest in these types of technology to control civil unrest, what would the UN do about that? Employ their own drones?

Also there is much monies to be had in promoting drone technology and smart weaponry, and not only are humans keen to see if these things work, proving their cost effectiveness and sustainability, (curiosity), they also want to produce more of them and sell them to nations who will readily buy them? What good is a Tomahawk cruise missile that sits on the storehouse shelf for 20 years? Answer - none. Missiles are giant fireworks for war mongers who mass produce them, then send out salespersons to sell them so they can make more, and innovate new tech and upgrades. Supply and demand, and if there isn’t any demand - generate some? It will be/is the same with drones?

Anything or any technology that makes war and combat easier further devalues all human life? One could say that an individual soldier has expert training and is thus deemed as an asset, (remember the helicopter of navy seals that was downed - how many years experience, man-hour training was lost?) yet drones do not merely trump the tragic loss of life of expert soldiers and marines? The total value calculated to apply to casualties on the other side is also lessened by degree, as drones are quickly replaceable, expendable, and can even be used for suicide runs?

168 children killed in drone strikes in Pakistan since start of campaign
“As many as 168 children have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan during the past seven years as the CIA has intensified its secret programme against militants along the Afghan border.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/8695679/168-children-killed-in-drone-strikes-in-Pakistan-since-start-of-campaign.html


Time expenditure and strategic planning cost is minimised to the point of zero where a drone is already at site, “what do you want to do sir? we can use the drone to attack now, without a second’s thought or hesitation?” .. this is the kind of rationale leading to mistakes, casualty through friendly fire, or mistaking war correspondents and journalists for terror suspects.. etc.

There ain’t no stopping technology and smart weaponry, it’s here to stay, and it will save lives.. allied lives. Yet unbridled use of readily available and cheaply produced drones will need to be scrutinized seriously and some manner of UN conventions applied, (you can 3D print and snap together a glider now, at the combat zone - adding smart tech CPU’s should also be a whiz?)

Tased From Above! New Robot Copter To Begin Patrolling Our Skies

http://singularityhub.com/2011/08/21/tased-from-above-new-robot-copter-to-begin-patrolling-our-skies-video/





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