Victor Massaro 5/11/09 REL 394
Robotics and the Morality of their Use in War
“All humans are endowed with a moral faculty – a capacity that enables
each individual to unconsciously and automatically evaluate a limitless variety of actions” (p. 5, Arkin 2). If humans are removed from the battlefield, does this moral faculty disappear as well? Morality is a crucial aspect in the justifications and actions of war. According to Just War theorists, there are certain criteria that must be met in the justification and actions of war. The use of robotics seems to conflict with, or at the very least, bend the laws of Just War theory. The present‐ day and future uses of robotic warfare bring about this idea of a necessity of morality and the ultimate effect it has on humans in war. Robots do not possess an emotional side while humans are highly emotional. The question that comes to light is whether or not the use of these robots, lethal or non‐lethal, is ethical, if their use brings about a desensitized idea of war and ultimately makes war an easier choice to carry out. This paper will examine each of these aspects as a means of bringing to light the current misuses of this new technology as well as providing a hopeful and beneficial outlook of their potential. Nonetheless, current robotic warfare desensitizes humans from the horror of war and lacks the accountability and ethicality required by traditions such as Just War theory.
The Laws of War and Rules of Engagement are engraved into the human
mindset during the times of war. However, there is a need to transmit these
concepts into autonomous robotics. Laws of War regulate the conduct of armed forces while the Rules of Engagement focus mainly on the initiation of combat engagement. Combine these concepts with those of Just War and there is a very clear picture of what is generally accepted on the global battlefield. Just War has two aspects, Jus ad Bellum and Jus in Bello. The former limits the initiation of conflict and raises the idea of last resort, meaning that military use must be the last resort possible. Jus in Bello defines the ethical uses of warfare. It focuses on the protection of non‐combatants, the responsibility associated with actions, and the concept of proportionality where the “acts of war should not yield damage disproportionate to the ends that justify their use” (p. 2, Arkin 1). Robotic warfare is needs to be in accordance with these Jus in Bello concepts, especially in fully autonomous technologies.
The first aspect of robotic use that needs to be addressed is whether or
not their use is ethical at all in accordance to Just War thought. The major issue is that this technology is becoming readily available without fully understanding the consequences or needed restrictions of its use. This is similar to the use of the nuclear bomb in the sense that before its repercussions were fully understood, it had been used and there was no turning back. The same may come of robots. However, in complying with Just War theory, the most complicated aspect is that of combatants versus non‐combatants. How do you train or for that matter, program an autonomous robot to distinguish between a combatant and a non‐combatant. This is an issue that has not yet been solved
even though robotic use is becoming more and more prevalent. For instance, in 1998 during a patrol mission, the U.S.S. Vincennes, which featured a new autonomous Aegis radar system, shot down an Iranian passenger jet. The system had registered the plane as an Iranian F‐14 fighter jet, which made it an “assumed enemy”. “Though the hard data were telling the human crew that the plane wasn’t a fighter jet, they trusted the computer more. Aegis was in semi‐ automatic mode, giving it the least amount of autonomy, but not one of the 18 sailors and officers in the command crew challenged the computer’s wisdom. They authorized it to fire”. Two‐hundred and ninety passengers and crew died, including sixty‐six children (Singer, The New Battlefield). It is instances like these that have and continue to raise the need for a perfected system before the use of these robots is fully justified. These situations also raise the question of who is responsible or accountable for actions such as these?
Accountability is a large part of Jus in Bello. It is an easy concept to
address with humans on the battlefield. A soldier fires his weapon and kills an innocent, he and/or his commander is held responsible for doing so. However, there is a much larger gray area when it comes to robotics, especially fully autonomous technologies. Who is ultimately responsible? Is it the programmer of the robot, the overseer of the robots actions, the general in charge of the operation, or worse yet, is there no accountability? “If there are recognizable war crimes, there must be recognizable criminals” (p. 76, Arkin 1). While presently, these programming techniques for accountability are lacking, it is argued that for
ethical robotics to exist, “responsibility returns to those who designed, deployed and commanded the autonomous agent to act, as they are those who controlled its beliefs” (p. 76, Arkin 1). However, other thinkers on this topic, including Robert Sparrow argue that a fully autonomous robotic system is completely unethical. He argues that, “while responsibility could ultimately vest in the commanding officer for the system’s use, it would be unfair, and hence unjust, to both that individual and any resulting casualties in the event of a violation” (p. 8, Arkin). He compares robots to child soldiers, neither of which can morally assume responsibility for their actions.
Lastly, in dealing with Jus in Bello concepts for a just war, proportionality
must be addressed. The United States Army “prescribes the test of proportionality in a clearly utilitarian perspective as: “The loss of life and damage to property…must not be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage expected to be gained” (p. 23, Arkin 1). Roboticist Ronald C. Arkin looks into this aspect through a programming algorism to instill a sense of proportionality in a fully autonomous robot. Before acting with lethal force, a robot must assign responsibility, which is granted by a human in command before the mission. Then military necessity is established through the criteria for targeting. Then the robot must maximize discrimination, which establishes the target as a legitimate combatant. Lastly, the robot must minimize the force required to succeed which combines the concepts of Proportionality and the Principle of Double Intention. This forces the robot to “act in a manner that
minimizes collateral damage” while not taking civilian lives (p. 59, Arkin 1). The issue that arises is that these values are not yet instilled in robots, however, they current use is ongoing on the modern battlefield. This raises the issue that robotic warfare is not completely unethical, instead, certain current aspects are, but can be addressed and corrected. The one aspect that seems to be infallible is the fact that robots are more efficient, more precise and may in fact be able to function with a more ethical nature. “They don’t get hungry,” says Gordon Johnson of the Pentagon’s Joint Forces Command. “They’re not afraid. They don’t forget their orders. They don’t care if the guy next to them has just been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes” (Singer, The New Battlefield). Saint Augustine, a founder of Just War thought, noted, “that emotion can clearly cloud judgment in warfare” (p. 2, Arkin 1). Arkin argues, “despite the current state of the art, that in the future autonomous robots may be able to perform better than humans” (p. 6, Arkin 1). Robots do not need to have a self-preservation manner. They can also be designed without emotions that clearly have major effects on a human soldier. Michael Walzer, another political Just War thinker, states that, “Fear and hysteria are always latent in combat…they press us toward fearful measures and criminal behavior. Autonomous agents need not suffer similarly” (p. 6, Arkin 1). Brian J. Bill of the International and Operational Law Department at the Judge Advocate General’s School, outlines ways in which to avoid war crimes. These include avoiding high friendly losses, poorly trained troops and having unclear orders that are misinterpreted. (p. 216, Bill). Robots
don’t engage in rage driven acts or react to situations of horror. Removing the human psyche from the battlefield is a great advantage. It not only lowers the loss of life in war, but it also makes for a more ethically level playing field. However, these ethics, as stated before, must be instilled in the programming of the robot, and the commander overseeing the respective actions. The argument doesn’t seem to lie in whether they would act more ethically, it’s instead whether or not their use is ethical.
A big reason the use of lethal robotics is called into moral question is the
effects they have on humans in war. “The ethics of war quickly reveals ambition, wickedness, courage, hatred and compassion, within an intensely emotional and human framework. Soldiers live with their enemies in the same community of fate. They also have to live with themselves and their actions for years long after the battle is over” (p. 150, Coker). By removing these emotions and ultimately humans from the battlefield, does it desensitize humans from the horrors of war? There are three divisions to this argument. The first focuses on the Just War concept of last resort. Last resort should only take place after all other options have been exhausted. These include diplomatic, economic and all other avenues for avoiding war. If it reaches the point that there is no other option, war is the last resort and is therefore justified. However, with robotics, there becomes a much‐removed human experience from war. Therefore, committing to acts of war earlier than the last resort becomes an easier decision to make. This leads to a misconception of proportionality as well. In situations such as these, the means
may far outweigh the ends because there is no longer a time period of hesitance required when sending human life into a conflict. Instead, the only thing at risk is a high price tag attached to the loss of robotic technology. Lawrence J. Korb is one of the deans of Washington’s defense policy establishment. One of his arguments is that in the future there will be “more Kosovos and less Iraqs,” stating that, “As unmanned systems become more prevalent, we’ll become more likely to use force, but also see the bar raised on anything that exposes human troops to danger….[envisioning] a future in which the United States is willing to fight, but only from afar, in which it is more willing to punish by means of war but less willing to face the costs of war” (Singer, The New Battlefield).
Robotics make war a fantasy and not a reality. This concept of
desensitizing humans has a ripple effect originating from the military and makes its way into the public sector. First off, current and future robots record everything that they see. Combat footage has ultimately become a form of entertainment for the general public. “War becomes…a global spectator sport for those not involved in it” (Singer, The New Battlefield). There is an argument that nations tend to go to war because of overconfidence. Technology has proven to fuel this overconfidence. Combining this with the publics’ seemingly content view of war due to the access to the “entertainments of war” is a dangerous step in the wrong direction.
Directing attention back to the desensitizing of military personal, most
importantly with the introduction of robotic technologies, the human experience
is being reshaped. When war is merely pushing a button, or watching a TV screen, does morality make its way into a humans train of thought as it would faced with a decision on the battlefield? The simple answer is no. The growing gap between personal experience on the battlefield and reality through a computer monitor is rapidly occurring. A perfect example of this is the current use of Reaper drones being flown in missions over Pakistan. These are the first hunter‐killer unmanned aerial vehicles in use by the United States military. The difference between this and say an F‐16 jetfighter is that pilots thousands of miles away fly these Reaper drones, at a military base in the middle of the Nevadan desert. This creates the drastic separation of war mentioned earlier. Not only does censor a human experience, but it also, yet again, puts morality on the backburner of the human mind. “You see Americans killed in front of your eyes,” a drone pilot told author P.W. Singer, “and then you have to go to a PTA meeting”. “You are going to war for [twelve] hours,” another pilot told Singer, “shooting weapons at targets, directing kills on enemy combatants, and then you get in the car, drive home, and within twenty minutes you are sitting at the dinner table talking to your kids about their homework” (Singer, Youtube). This is a striking account of the kinds of separation from the realities of war that soldiers on the ground experience. This lack of understanding and experience leads to a slippery slope of desensitizing the human consciousness of war and moral action.
The question that remains is simply, are the current uses of robotics
moral and if not, what needs to be done in order to move forward in a more ethical manner. The answer to the concept of current morality is no. Current robots, primarily those that use lethal force, are not adequately programmed to carry out missions that take away human life. Even though they are still, at the moment, under the control of a human overseer or controller, there are many accounts of immoral action. Most prominently, this includes the killing of non‐ combatants and the lack of segregation between hostiles and innocents. Commonly, the discovery of civilian death, especially in the case of Reaper drones, occurs after missions are enacted. However, no one can deny that there are ethical benefits to the use of lethal robotics. The removal of human emotion rids the concepts of revenge and brutality in response to the horrors of war. Instead, robots are given mission parameters and the mission is carried out in a prompt and efficient manner. These bypass all of the intangibles that coincide with human emotion. Nonetheless, there is a thin line between the removal of human emotion and human experience. The latter must never be replaced. It is the experience that keeps ethics in check. Arkin argues that the “primary goal remains to enforce the International Laws of War in the battlefield in a manner that is believed achievable, by creating a class of robots that not only conform to International Law but outperform human soldiers in their ethical capacity. At the very least, if [they] can reduce civilian casualties according to what the Geneva Conventions have promoted and that Just War tradition subscribes to, the result
will have been a humanitarian effort” (p. 98, Arkin 1). As long as the concepts of Just War and other Laws of War are at the forefront of robotic engineers, operators, and overseers, the use of this new and constantly developing technology has bright future in balancing war and morality.
In conclusion, while the current use of robotics does not adhere to the
principles of Just War and other traditions of war, there is, at the very least, an attempt to correct the present course. There is no doubt that military robots have the ability to act at the very least, in an equal ethical manner to their human counterparts. The tradition of human experience in war is something robotics should never replace. There also needs to be a clear‐cut establishment of responsibility of immoral action such as the killing of non‐combatants. These instances can no longer be chalked up to a “manufacture error”. Instead, a revolution in the ideas of conditions of war and the consequences of actions needs to be addressed. It has never bode well for mankind when the uses of new technologies weren’t fully understood. In order to avoid a similar occurrence to that of the nuclear bomb in World War II, a step backward must be taken and the morality and ethics of their uses must be addressed and corrected.
Word Count: 2,732 Bibliography
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