General Question

coffeenut's avatar

How Ethical is it to kill someone with Armed Autonomous Machines?

Asked by coffeenut (6171points) February 24th, 2011

I’m watching a show on current and potential in the works robotic warfare, this program is focused on the US DOD…

The current UAV’s with hellfire missiles….Someone sitting in the US killing people in another country via a “video game” type platform….

The “Swarm” program in the works where multiple mini drone “force” are deployed in a area… A base command is given and the “collective” decides how to carry them out and strike…
And so on….

I’m all for minimizing loss of life….But this is absurd…

With the world the way it is… Machines should be used to help humanity…. The medical assistance, Food delivery to country’s in need, helping people in earthquake sites, helping people trapped by floods, And so on….

Not kill people,

Continuing down this path is detrimental to the progress being made in AI and robotics.

And worse of all it will de-humanize war, little to no compassion, possibly more collateral damage, How much remorse can someone feel from pushing a button….and in the end the biggest design flaw that will be “fixed” will be the human element….

And than we will be screwed….

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42 Answers

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

As opposed to the very ethical killings of people with something other than AAMs?

coffeenut's avatar

@MyNewtBoobs Yes, Humans should kill humans and leave machines out of it. In “normal” war soldiers live or die…and it matters.

When you introduce robots to replace soldiers and either they function or are destroyed It doesn’t matter….

until the location of the controller is destroyed…then it will matter

El_Cadejo's avatar

That and think about how potentially more apocalyptic war could get if robots could be mass produced for war….


wundayatta's avatar

How is the use of these robots any different from dropping bombs? Or shooting missiles?

A military’s job is to protect it’s citizenry, including its military personnel. It is a way for a country to assert its will.

The issue is not whether killing by any particular method is ethical. It’s about whether it is ethical for the military to kill at all, in defense of the country. If it is ethical do defend your nation by killing members of the military seeking to harm your nation, then any method you use is ethical.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Not ethical. War isn’t, either.

blueiiznh's avatar

In war, ethics are washed away in the rivers of blood shed.

ETpro's avatar

Let me pose a thought experiment as an answer. Intelligence has come to us that Muammar Gaddafi plans to put MIG fighters into the skies over Libya and drop chemical weapons on every major population center. We know that this will kill many millions of innocent people, and leave millions more maimed and scarred for life just so this dictator can keep himself in power over a people who want nothing of his rule. You are sitting in front of a panel that controls a drone, and you have Gaddafi directly in your sights. Would you pull the trigger, or let him take the responsibility for being a killer? Wouldn’t the blood of the millions he butchered be on your hands too if you refused to take one life yourself to save a million? Soldiers have to deal with that calculation.

Developing ever more awesome weapons of war is a fools game nobody yet knows how to stop playing. He who volunteers to stop first becomes the next target. So far, the thing that has most limited killing is the very power of our most awesome weapons. Since thermonuclear fusion warheads became numerous enough that an all-out nuclear war meant mutually assured destruction (MAD) we haven’t had a nuclear war. Game, set, match.

As far as ethics, is it more ethical to kill someone with 10,000 paper cuts over the space of a year, or to just shoot them with a robot? The only ethics I see in killing has not to do with the choice of weapons but with the length of suffering the victim must endure before death. Killing someone is killing them, whether you beat them to death with your fists, shoot them, or plant an IED on the trail they travel every day.

blueiiznh's avatar

I normally don’t answer a question with a question, but How ethical is it to ignore atrocities?

jerv's avatar

I place it as about equivalent to killing someone with a firearm or a knife.

Weapons don’t kill people; the people wielding/guiding/launching them do. And so long as the decision to deploy or use a weapon originated from a human being, I see it as no different from an AK-47, a crow bar, or a frozen wedge of Parmesan cheese.

6rant6's avatar

Not clear why a robot is less moral than say a trebuchet? The user is impervious, doesn’t see the victim. The target is dead.

War is hell.

LostInParadise's avatar

The problem is not the killing. Killing by robot is no different than killing directly. The problem is, as you point out, that the human element is removed. The danger is that it will be easy to overuse the robots without giving it a second thought. The other danger is that mistakes will be magnified. As someone once said, to err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer.

coffeenut's avatar

Who decides the targets? Our corrupt politicians? The shady government agencies? The military leaders? Let the robots decide for themselves?

Do we really want “soldiers” who obey every order given? instead of pilots ditching their plains instead of firing on unarmed civilians…

Or “operators” being given orders or fire on (longitude-Latitude) instead of actually seeing the target or what’s inside….

Who is responsible when mistakes are made?

You have Gaddafi directly in your sights….You fire. Your hellfire missile kills Gaddafi and 45 civilians with him…. Will you be responsible for a Mechanical error causing the missile to stray off target? The company the provided the program? The company that built the missile?

Or would this be marked down as “acceptable losses” because “our” intelligence committee said he placed to kill millions because they have never been wrong before….right?

But why stop with Gaddafi? There are still a lot of really bad people in the world….and it worked so well this time only 45 civilian casualties So why not make a few more stops to assassinate some more dictators/criminals/terrorists…..But hey what about Iran building nuclear reactors…..hmmm we don’t want the so let’s make a stop their too….

And when the “Bad guys” build their own war-bots…..

Do we really want to travel this road?

6rant6's avatar

Hey, with bombing runs, it’s air currents and reaction times that determine who the victims are. They release the weapon and people die.

Yes, if anyone creates a machine that can go amok a kill people for years, then that’s stupid. But the same number of casualties would come if a cluster bomb hit a hospital. We have come to accept that cluster bombs always hit their target. Whether that’s true I doubt, but still. What’s the difference between the two weapons?

woodcutter's avatar

The same ethics are used when a bomb under the road goes off right as a target vehicle passes over. Those people in the vehicle saw no signs that a bomb was there, they never will. Therefore it is the feeling of the unknown, that it will come out of nowhere every time, that will disrupt movement and cause constant fear and paranoia. The feeling is, there is no way to hide or escape these weapons. They are as much psychological warfare as conventional.

ETpro's avatar

@coffeenut We have already traveled that road. The laws of who gives orders, who carries them out, and when the order can legally be refused as illegal are all spelled out in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The same rules apply as would to sending an actual human soldier into some woe-begotten cave rigged with booby traps with orders to kill someone hiding deep inside. It is a whole lot easier to criticize the idea of robots when it isn’t you who would have to replace the robot if we decided not to develop that technology, but just let others have them.

coffeenut's avatar

@ETpro There should be a law so that no-one has them.

ETpro's avatar

@coffeenut Perhaps. But who enforces this law. The UN doesn’t seem very effective at getting nations to behave. Generally, if you need a law you need a cop.

coffeenut's avatar

@ETpro It shouldn’t be too hard…only a few countries have the ability to produce these on a serious level….and they generally comply with the U.N….The others should follow suit if we make an example of the first one to break that rule…

ETpro's avatar

@coffeenut I am sorry, but I do not understand any reason to do this. I would be all for it if you could tell me how we eliminate all weapons of war and get people to live peacably. But when I am about to get shot, I really could care less whether is it a fellow human being, a robot, or a trained chimpanzee pulling the trigger. I care about the fact of getting shot. I’m just as dead if Selma Hayek shoots me as I am if some ugly robot guns me down. Why is one weapon killing someone inherently nicer than another?

coffeenut's avatar

@ETpro Because once you take humans out of war whither it’s (human controlled ) machines vs Humans or AI machines vs humans or machine vs machine you loose/change the emotions that soldiers/citizens feel….

We celebrate and honor our war heroes, We mourn the fallen…. Will we celebrate the best robot? or mourn the loss of destroyed ones?....Not likely

When there is no chance of human casualties will we still hesitate to go to war?

How much empathy/regret/remorse will operators feel killing people through a computer in another country? any at all

How long before war turns into a video game? will each operator get their own scoreboard

What recourse will “the enemy” have against hundreds of warbots….Trying to take out controlling satellites…Bombing the country of origion?

What chance do civilians have against warbots attacking city’s…?

And so on…..

What is the point of Humanity when our army’s have none….

ETpro's avatar

@coffeenut You know that these weapons exist and have been in use for quite some time, do you not? If we (the USA) unilaterally decided we would just give ours up, do you think all the other nations of Earth would do the same? Or might there be a chance that our disarming would ensure that some power-drunk dictator somewhere would use robot drones of their own to attack us and wipe out our government.

coffeenut's avatar

@ETpro Well, yes some do exist in a very limited quantity…. I’m referring to the natural progression when humans will start to be replaced by machines….

Ah yes, the classic US paranoia…. “They” are coming to get us…. except it’s usually the US going to get them… How many times has the USA been attacked (on a serious level) in the last….60 years? 100 years?

But alas my opinion on this really doesn’t matter… They will build them wither I like it or not…. lol, We finally get to the point of AI and Advanced Robotics and what do we do…we weaponize them….How sad is that.

ETpro's avatar

@coffeenut I see. We were somewhat talking past each other then, because I understood this to be a question about what’s here now. But I see, rereading it, how it can be aimed at what’s likely to come as a logical progression.

I am far from a subscriber to the “They’re coming to get us paranoia of the American right. But there really are people like Alexander the Great, Atilla the Hun, Napolean, Hitler and so on who will come to get anyone they deem vulnerable. If you think that is just paranoia, we have no basis for debate, as our realities are too separate to ever connect.

coffeenut's avatar

@ETpro lol…. Well you are right, this is a pointless debate, I doubt you will agree with me, and I won’t agree with you… especially if you bring US propaganda into this

Also if you lived in Europe or Asia I could understand your point…. Except none of the people you mentioned ever went near the USA…

LostInParadise's avatar

@ETpro , Why do we have to relinquish our drones in order for others to use them? Other nations are still able to take advantage of our technology That is why so many nations have nuclear weapons. We end up having to create systems to counter the weapons that we originally developed, putting us in an arms war with ourselves.

woodcutter's avatar

The US’s likely enemies are more likely to use tactics that sacrifice themselves in order to succeed. Something they know the western world isn’t going to do, so in a way they can have an advantage when going into a daring attack because they won’t be held back by the logistics of extraction. They are expendable and more will step up to take their place. It’s a tough enemy to fight. The west isn’t going to send a small squad of fighters to do a one way mission way out ahead of the main body to take out an enemy leader. These soldiers are not expendable and are valued assets so the unmanned machines put the users on an equal footing in that arena. Even that word,“equal”, doesn’t fit in with warfare. Equal means dealock, never ending back and forth. It is every intention to NOT be fair. That’s how all fights are won. There’s no such thing as cheating when war is the game.Those drones are not invincible by any means, they can be shot down.

flutherother's avatar

War is not incompatible with chivalry and it is possible, even natural to respect your adversary. Modern weaponry changes the rules. When the enemy can be killed easily with little risk to yourself it can’t be ethical.

woodcutter's avatar

Ethical, love that word really. It just doesn’t roll off the tongue so well when planning war strategy. I do remember a picture taken from one of these flying machines looking down at a large formation of enemy fighters at what some believe was a ceremony or maybe a funeral and the operator didn’t pull the trigger, so in that sense restraint was used. Must have had their reasons to hold their fire but these people would not have extended the same courtesy if given the chance, agree?

ETpro's avatar

@coffeenut So are you saying that only those nations that have been attacked in the past can ever be attacked again? If that’s your postulate, please explain how they got attacked the first time. since at that point they had never been attacked before.

I have little doubt that, as many enemies as the USA has made, we would be attacked rapidly if we unilaterally disarmed.

@LostInParadise I never said that we did. Please don’t put words in my mouth. I said that our relinquishing drones wouldn’t prevent others from using them against us. That is quite the opposite of what you are attributing to me.

To all of you, I am as peace loving as anyone here. I am also old and wise enough to realize that there are evil, aggressive people in the world, and they are not deterred in their evil intent by the fact someone embraces peace. They are all the more encouraged to attack by that. Until mankind in total rises to a higher level of consciousness, I think mutually assured destruction is our best guarantee of peace. Suicide bombers will kill you even if it means killing themselves in the process. But so far, no great nation state with the level of force needed to end all life has become a suicide nation. Let us pray none ever does. Because robots have NOTHING to do with that equation.

flutherother's avatar

@woodcutter Shooting people attending a funeral is a bit sick. Let’s not do that.

LostInParadise's avatar

@ETpro , Do you see how convenient the use of drones would be for terrorists? They are a very inexpensive way of killing people in a crowded area, much better than suicide bombers. For terrorists there is no such thing as collateral damage. The more people killed the better. It is just a matter of time before they have access to the technology.

coffeenut's avatar

@ETpro lol….No, I asked you how many times in the last 100 years has the USA been attacked, and you answer listing people starting wars confined in other countrys….. So does that mean that the US paranoia is based on wars confined to Europe/Asia?

Because the USA is one of the few super powers on the planet….would they really be considered “weak” because of a lack of warbots? Or if we made it a worldly idea the ones who break the rules are more likely to be nations with limited ability…..

Yes the US has made enemy’s (past/present) But how many of them have the ability/willingness to attack the USA on a serious level? Not Many

If “we” build warbots and deploy them around the world with our operators safely at home, wouldn’t that increase the chances of attacks on US soil?

woodcutter's avatar

@coffeenut It’s not that the US’s enemies could not mount a serious attack. Even if it is minor it is still not desirable to allow even the smallest hit. Doing this, allowing this, is the same as giving notice to all who may want to attempt it that we are weak and tolerant of small attacks. That is the terror game, a death by a thousand cuts. After all, as horrible as 911 was, only about 3000 were killed. 3000? That’s not very many when we consider the whole population is it?

coffeenut's avatar

@woodcutter um…ya….this has nothing to do with “tolerating” any attacks… The point I’m trying to make is the unfounded “They might come” paranoia attitude the US has developed to justify their actions….When in reality the previous attacks on US soil have been extremely minimal (in attack form, as well as loss of life).....In this case “If we don’t build warbots someone else will and attack us” instead of working with the rest of the world so that we do not use some technology in this way and trying to keep a “damaging blow to all of humanity” from happening…

woodcutter's avatar

@coffeenut These Islamic terrorists are dead serious about what they want to achieve. The only reason they have failed so far is because of technology of one kind or another ,keeping them in check. These flying killers are out there watching to keep tabs on the enemy who want to hit not only US assets, but Canadian, Brits ,and all the other coalition partners who have a dog in this fight. The terrain is so vast it would be impossible to send actual people out there to watch, although there may indeed be special forces folks on the ground out in no mans land. They are up there to help save lives, no matter if its ethical or just the plain fact nobody really wants to die because they got walked up on, or any other reason. They all want to leave there in one piece and believe me it doesn’t matter to those troops whether good ethics were in play somewhere far away out of their view.

ETpro's avatar

@LostInParadise No, drones are a lousy option for terrorists. They are incredibly expensive to acquire. Long range operation of them means you need to own a satellite network. And any of the major powers can easily detect them coming. They are primarily a counter to the asymmetrical warfare of terrorism.

@coffeenut I chose not to answer the “How many times has the US been attacked.” question directly because I found it illogical to assume that only those things that have happened in the past can possibly happen in the future.

I’ll answer your question if you promise to answer the one I posed in reply. Fair enough?

And BTW, we are not using drones because “They might come.” We are using them on al Qaeda and the Taliban forces that gave them safe haven. They DID come. They killed 3,000 of our people. And they are now hiding in the Waziristan area of Pakistan where we cannot sned troops to root the mout unless we want to invade yet another country.

coffeenut's avatar

@woodcutter @ETpro If you are bringing “terrorists” in as your defense…. We better end this now, Let’s just agree to disagree

ETpro's avatar

@coffeenut Since that is all they have been used for to date and the current ones are pretty useless in major warfare against well equipped nation states, agreed. If we have to discuss hypothetical future weapons, I have no idea what might be next, and so am in no position to discuss it.

coffeenut's avatar

@ETpro um….UAV’s have been in operation since like the 70’s Here, The Problem is not using them as “spy” planes, It’s arming them.

LostInParadise's avatar

@ETpro , Drones are very affordable and do not require satellites. Can drones be used against us?

ETpro's avatar

@LostInParadise That is indeed a revealing article. Thanks for the link I learned a good deal I did not know. Nothing there convinces me we should unilaterally abandon this development, though. Quite the opposite, if everybody and his brother has them we had batter have them as well.

kritiper's avatar

If someone is going to get killed, then who cares??

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