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back to article Work for the military? Don't be evil, says ethicist

Engineers should refuse to work on killer robots, says Australian ethicist Dr Robert Sparrow. Sparrow's definition of a killer robot includes the Predator drone, a weapon he finds objectionable because “Military robots are making it easier for governments to start wars, thinking that they won't incur any casualties on their own …

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Anonymous Coward

Of course on the one hand it may make it easier for politicians to go to war (I don't believe that to be honest, I think politicians are perfectly happy to go to war regardless, just look at the US and UK governments of late). However it also means that when your politicians have decided to murder their own people in the name of X cause a few less may die because an engineers provided an automated way for them to do their job.

The politicians know they'll incur casualties, the hundreds dead on the Wests sides and the thousands (tens of?) of locals were on the "balance" sheet when they decided to go to war. They just pretend to be surprised.

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Idiot! Since when has the government worried about casualties? A robot getting blown up means it wasn't someone's son instead. Wars are still going to happen. You'd have better luck asking the workers not to make bullets. At least that will stop soldiers.

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Unhappy

A robot getting blown up means it wasn't someone's son instead.

Tell that to the ten's of thousands of civilians killed on the "enemies" side.

I admire this guys stance, but to many racists, xenophobes and war mongers in this world for him to be listened to.

At the end of the day, war makes good business sense and that's what count in this shallow world of ours, not people, but money, greed and power.

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Anonymous Coward

At least that will stop soldiers

Ironically, bullets stop soldiers.

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Anonymous Coward

To be honest i sometimes wonder if the government cares more about a robot than a person. A soldier to the fiscally minded politician is probably cheaper than say a predator drone.

You've only got to look on the modern battlefield to see this happening i reckon:

"Send in the tanks!"

"Sir, the enemy have anti tank missiles."

"Send in the troops!"

Says it all really. Most of our armour sits at the back, people are expendable, hardware costs money. The above is especially true of the air force.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A robot getting blown up means it wasn't someone's son instead.

> I admire this guys stance, but to many racists, xenophobes and war mongers in this world for him to be listened to.

So anybody who disagrees with him is a racist, xenophobe or war monger. It must be nice to be able pigeon hole people so easily.

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Big Brother

Silly comment

Rant-on:

You would find it hard to justify your view of the modern battlefield by looking at the mix of equipment provided. The idea that a battleground can exist that is foot or armor only is mind boggling. Even Afghanistan has armor (in the form of aircraft more than tanks.)

In Iraq the armor (including APCs) provided mobility and ,for lack of a better term, do-it-yourself fortresses. The problem with that is the enormous support structure required to keep those forces supplied in the field. The modern battle tank is equivalent to WWII tank company and takes even more resources to support.

The antitank missiles these days, you are more likely thinking of RPGs and IEDs are more of a threat to the APCs and soft skinned vehicles. Which is where you see them being used. Those weapons have caused the development, again, of new vehicles to get troops in relative safely to and from combat. But unless your willing to pound every square foot of ground to a depth of 6 or 10 feet how do you make it safe for the troops?

If you can pound it, will the politicians accept the cost? The US lost Vietnam, it didn't loose it by the lack of dollars spent. The same goes for Korea and Somalia. It will probably be true for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rant-off:

There is IMHO no good solution. The politicians do what they want for the reasons they want and the rest of us have to dance to their tune.

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FAIL

"Most of our armour sits at the back.......The above is especially true of the air force."

Really?

"Send in the planes!"

"But sir, they have anti-aircraft missiles!"

".....Give that man a can of Red Bull, get him to flap his arms really, really fast and send him in!"

You obviously have no idea how an air force works.

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Anonymous Coward

Another approach...

GOSUB LaunchMissile

LaunchMissile:

PRINT "No. Can't do it."

END

There. Now 'Code Inspective' budgets will have to quadruple.

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Headmaster

Re: Another approach...

Shouldn't that END be a RETURN?

Sorry - couldn't help myself.

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Why doesn't he stop writing?

Basically all violent causes stem from a philosophical writing. Maybe we should ask all philosophers to stop doing their thing? :/

As was stated before, a dead drone probably worries the government MORE than a dead soldier, given the expense of a drone vs the expense of recruiting and training a warm body. I don't buy this guy's premise at all.

And his conclusion is naturally out to lunch, he assumes that a) you believe all war is bad (how did he get a philosophy degree when he's willing to sweep that one under the rug as a given?) b) drones create more war and c) the presence of overwhelmingly offensive technology can't ever in fact prevent war. And that's just the tip of what's wrong.

So yeah, no, I'm not going to pass on being able to pay the mortgage and eat if a military contract comes along so that this douchebag whose life is paid for by grants and an inflated professor's salary can sit on his largely detached from reality high horse, thanks.

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Thumb Down

You were presenting your case legitmately (& effectively from your point of view)...........

......and I to some extent felt that you had a point. Right up until you wrote this:

"..............that this douchebag whose life is paid for by grants and an inflated professor's salary can sit on his largely detached from reality high horse, thanks."

Ad hominem attack combined with personal abuse. What happened? You were doing quite well up until that point. All you succeeded in doing was wreck any constructive-debate impact your posting might have had.

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Re: Why doesn't he stop writing?

"As was stated before, a dead drone probably worries the government MORE than a dead soldier, given the expense of a drone vs the expense of recruiting and training a warm body. I don't buy this guy's premise at all."

No a dead drone is less of a worry. You can fix a drone or buy a new one. Soldiers on the other hand get hurt and then spend the next fifty years on a pention, untold cost of rehabilitation and doctors expenses not to mention public anger when they get hurt. I'm not saying they don't deserve it cause they do. My father is a Vietnam veteran so I've seen it first hand.

Soldiers wouldn't be so bad if they got killed as it would be over and done with but the enemy knows a wounded soldier is a drain on resources so everything is geared to maim soldiers where possible.

Nobody cares when a preditor gets shot down (except the accountants) but everyone cares when a soldier comes home with no legs. War are still going to happen because countries are still run by politicians.

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Re: Why doesn't he stop writing?

@Arthur 1 - I put it to you that the military would prefer a dead solider to a wounded one. A dead one only costs them the funeral. A wounded one needs medical treatment, potentially life-long support and can have a devastating morale impact on their comrades. This is why some weapons are deliberately design to maim rather than kill. It's a sick sad world.

As for this "douchebag" (nice ad hominem, by the way) it all depends on where you draw your moral line. There will be some jobs that would pay your mortgage which you would refuse to do on moral grounds; he's just asking you to think about where you draw that line.

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Re: You were presenting your case legitmately (& effectively from your point of view)...........

@Arctic fox - just because someone resorts to an ad hominem does not invalidate the rest of their statement. That's woolly thinking - sorry.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why doesn't he stop writing?

@BigYin: speaking as a soldier, I prefer a wounded soldier to a dead one, and uninjured to either. The people who prefer dead soldiers are the bean-counters in government, not the military. Not even the top brass - because they were not always the top brass, and were on the firing line themselves.

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Re: "does not invalidate the rest of their statement." With respect I did not say that it.........

........invalidated that which he had written prior to the final paragraph*, I said "wreck any constructive-debate impact". In other words he, by that means, put a lot of people off who might otherwise have felt more well disposed towards his arguments. I am am assuming of course that one wishes to persuade rather than simply vent ones spleen?

*I in fact said "I to some extent felt that you had a point"

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why doesn't he stop writing?

@The BigYin "This is why some weapons are deliberately design to maim rather than kill."

The use of weapons or tactics to injure rather than kill has been used for a long time because treatment and evacuation ties up resources (men, transport, etc.) in the battlefield during action, which is typically where/when such resources are in short supply. You might try to limit the damage inflicted by weaponry to both people and infrastructure, if it is likely that you will be be in charge once the fighting stops: you might have to repair the damaged infrastructure and you might need the former enemies to help achieve that.

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Big Brother

Re: Why doesn't he stop writing?

You are correct in that a it is easier to replace a drone than a person. Also the production of drones takes only a short time (relative) and it takes about 18 years to replace a solder.

Now this ethicist thinks that engineers should stop working on robots. What is it unethical to work on robots and not on other types of weapons. Now ICBM have been a deterrent to the Cold War since they have been introduced. Mutual destruction you know. By this measure engineers should not have worked on the ICBMs. Now what could have been the result if the US in this case had not developed the ICBM and the other side did? If that had happened then the other side which did develop them would have demanded the other side to surrender and if they did not then could have destroyed that nation.

What the ethicist should be working for is to elect an ethical leader who will not use the robots as has been stated that they would.

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Re: Professors Salary

Ha. Ha. Hahahahahaha. How much do you think professors get paid? At top US universities the department chairs rarely break $100k (US) INCLUDING time paid for grants & research.

Show me a working professor who rakes in the bank and I'll show you where the water is in Texas.

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FAIL

Re: Professors Salary

See, http://chronicle.com/article/faculty-salaries-data-2012/131431#id=144050

Also, that's 9 mo. work year and doesn't include the very lucrative benefits packages. $100K my arse!

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Re: Why doesn't he stop writing?

Wait, what about the factory worker who builds the weapons? What about the miner who digs out the ore that will be refined into metal to build the weapons? What about etc, etc, etc?

All are complicit, or none are. There, how do you like that as an extreme statement? And yes, I have met people (young ones, admittedly) who espouse such positions.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why doesn't he stop writing?

"a dead drone probably worries the government MORE than a dead soldier"

With drones you can have an endless war, but at your own pace. You don't have the colossal expense of keeping tens of thousands of soldiers in a war zone. You can operate from secure bases as and when it suits you.

From a political POV it's not about cash, it's about headlines. Dead soldiers in a on-going military stalemate don't reflect well on those who sent them. Dead robots just get replaced a few years earlier than scheduled.

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Re: Professors Salary

Er, you should really look at the data you linked at. Full professors tend to be making in the $100-$120k with a few outliers at the expensive end bringing the average right up.

Histograms don't lie.

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This post has been deleted by its author

you don't want the decent people not working on it, all you get then are the unscrupulous "people" (there are many much better terms for it, but not in polite conversation.)

what you want is the conscientious ones doing something like this

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pacifist (there is a copy on google books, but that is missing a few pages.) (hmm, seems I don't qualify for hot-linking though it says basic HTML is allowed)

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Bad Word

Philosophy used to be the study of the universe. Now it has been downgraded to Hume & social science garbage. Like the Ðouche who said don't work on drones...

In their era, philosophers were doing real research & advancing science & the body of human knowledge. Issac Newton considered himself a philosopher, not a scientist, as did Ben Franklin.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bad Word

Well, "science" used to be the study of how and why things work.

Now much of it is stats with the pet theory of the day added on as the "reason."

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Headmaster

Anachronistic Word

The reason Newton and Franklin considered themselves (natural) philosophers rather than scientists is that we've only been using the word scientist for a little under 180 years, a good 40 years or so after Franklin died. Try looking up William Whewell on the intertubes for it was he who coined it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bad Word

Yeah, it's not like Hume was a serious philosopher, is it?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hume

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Joke

Don't worry!

We'll make sure the enemy don't steal the keys!

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"they won't incur any casualties on their own side"

Also, drones and 'bots don't have any of the nasty baggage that some meat-bags possess.

Things like a ethics, morals and empathy.

These things have no place in a military whose goals are primarily driven by the craven pursuit of profit and imperialism.

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Re: "they won't incur any casualties on their own side"

But drones are not robots they have human control (@drunkenpredator not with standing) - or would the Professor prefer the ww2 era approach of carpet bombing.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "they won't incur any casualties on their own side"

OK I wouldn't say I'm "pro-drone" in any way, but at least they don't try to rape female squaddies in the bathrooms, leading to numerous cases of fatal dehydration because they know they have to avoid going to the latrines after 5pm or so.... or go armed and in pairs .....

http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/145378/Female_Soldiers_Died_of_Dehydration_Rather_Than_Risk_Sexual_Assault

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Isn't most killtech designed to reduce your own casualties while maximising damage to the enemy, pretty much by definition. That's why we have machine-guns rather than swords - they kill at long range while the operators stay somewhere safe. Ditto, cannons.

War is the natural extension of economic policy. The "Hail Mary" of a failing economy.

Its usually combined with pride - "They can't do that to us!" or "We must return to our former glory!"

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Meh

Actually most killtech is designed to reduce your own casualties and casualties to designated non-combatants while maximising damage to the enemy. There's a reason they put all those expensive chips in most missiles nowadays - if the objective was to just cause damage without harm to ourselves we'd be using carpet bombs a lot more.

Dead civilians are almost as likely to cause war-weariness as dead soldiers (on your side).

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Anonymous Coward

No moral issue

I looked at this before I started working in the industry.

"If I use my skills to make a better, more targeted weapon, then there will be less collateral damage - I will have helped to save lives.

If I use my skills to make a more effective defence tool, then there will be less weaponry reaching its target - I will have helped to save lives."

The Predator, taken to its logical conclusion, can take out just the nasty dirtbag that needs removal without physically hurting anyone else. Precision is good, the political minds that control such precision is the problem.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No moral issue

I worked on military stuff back during the Falklands do. That seemed justifiable, but I really didn't like the military world view and got out afterwards. Years later I ended up working on some Afghan war stuff. I decided I liked that even less, so now avoid such jobs where I can.

Unfortunately there seems to be lots of money in war and in spying on/controlling the population. Great for the MoD & Home Office people, for consultants and the defense industry; not so good for the ordinary soldier and pretty poor for whoever the target is this year. And it doesn't feel like we're the good guys much of the time.

Just a personal view.

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Silver badge

Tosser arrogance causes more wars

If they didn't have missiles, they'd use guns.

If they didn't have guns they'd use spears.

If they didn't have spears they'd use rocks.

No rocks and they'd bite each other.

More wars have been caused be philosophers and thinkers who insist they are right and should force their point of view onto others. How scrupulous were the crusaders who went to save the poor Muslims from their misguided selves?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Tosser arrogance causes more wars

Think you are getting philosophers and thinkers mixed up with religious nut jobs.

Power and Religion: Killing people since the dawn of man.

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Terminator

Lets be honest

Most of us got into computers & engineering with the dream of building ourselves killer robots

I know I did :)

Igor! Pull the lever ....

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Igor! Pull the lever ...

Yeth, Marthter!!!!!

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Boffin

By the same reasoning...

... working on any armament should be a considered immoral. Any weapon (except a narrow case of suicidal weapons) is designed to give the wielder an upper hand, and consequently increase their chance to survive unharmed in the battle. And consequently (by the author's reasoning) increase the willingness of the government to engage in a war.

He's just read the "Kill Decision", that's all.

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Re: By the same reasoning...

God made us equal. Winchester made us more equal

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Actually

I've walked out of 3 jobs because I didn't want to work on military hardware, and skipped a thousand or so job adverts.

I still managed to pay off the mortgage, bring up 2 wonderful girls and design 3 things that are in the science museum.

And now $MEGACORP pays me to travel the world and commission things the size of a house that do good stuff.

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Re: Actually

You appear quite fortunate then - most people will never get the chance to be as moral. I don;t know whether you;ve noticed, but there is a bit iof a recession on, unemployment is high, and jobs are scarce for any but the brightest.

So what will happen - the brightest get the moral jobs, and the less well endowed in the smarts departments ones get to make armaments. Is that the right way round?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Actually

Wow - look out Jesus ...

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Re: Actually

Not always fortunate - there were dead periods where I was reduced to doing red&blue tape PCB artworks on the kitchen table. Or plugging new cash register printers in at Tesco after midnight.

I'm just saying that people should make their own choices. Maybe if I had been different I'd still be in charge of an R&D department instead of using a screwdriver and a torque wrench on a daily basis. Maybe I'd have earned more. But I earned enough, and can live with having designed control systems in the food and printing industry.

I'm not sure that people do work on weapons systems without a certain amount of introspection: I know a few who did exactly that. I rather think this chap's advice is null. I think that most designers and developers know very well what they are doing. it would all get smelly very quickly if they didn't.

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