Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Drone Wars

As a person who has studied artificial intelligence and robotics for the last 25 years, I was really surprised when it was discovered that we were wiping people off the planet with drones. This is the type of activity that deserves ethical scrutiny.

Perhaps the words you are looking for are "Constitutional scrutiny".

There are Americans abroad who are being gunned down by the President. He's admitted that he keeps a "list" of targets in his desk, and hand picks them for death. That's a lot of power for one man to have, and not exactly what the founders of this country had in mind. (Due process and all….)

I'm not in favor of the government killing anyone. So, it would not be ok for me even if there were more people involved, or even a jury. And it doesn't matter if it is a citizen or not.

The battlefield is a different story. But it should require a declaration of war.

It fits the President's foreign policy objectives, however:
-No boots on the ground, anywhere or for any reason.
-No prisoners in Guantanamo, because he wants to close it.
-No secret CIA prisons.
-No interrogations of prisoners, because all of that interrogation stuff is "torture".

Therefore, he can take no prisoners.

 And since a "take no prisoners" approach during war is against the rules of the Geneva Conventions, the president has to go out of his way with verbal gymnastics to claim we are not at war, and there is no named group we are at war with. Otherwise, he might be guilty of war crimes.

Diplomacy is always better, don't you think? Having "prisons" in other countries is problematic, yes? Torture is unacceptable, yes?

Torture is unacceptible, but interrogation is not. But how do you interrogate a dead man?

By the current standards shown by the President, it's surprising that Bowe Bergdahl wasn't blown to smithereens by a drone. Other Americans who were working with our enemies (who shall remain nameless by the administration) suffered this fate. Ah, but by releasing prisoners in a swap, the goal of closing Gitmo moves closer to reality, so I guess it fits.

I'm not sure a guy who knowingly lies to the public to pass bills, and insults the Republican half of the voting electorate in every speech he gives, is a guy who seems too concerned with whether he acting in an ethical way or not. His actions speak for themselves; The ends justify the means in his worldview.

I have no idea what you are talking about. I thought we were talking about the ethics of drones. The next step is to completely automate the drones, taking humans completely (or nearly) out of the loop. This is not acceptable.

Drones suit this particular president's policies very well (and most politician's needs as well). Waging war without calling it war. Killing those who oppose you without committing any US lives. Eliminating all of the baggage that goes with having prisoners to care for. All carried out with robot warriors who are above (or below) ethical considerations. The more automated, the cleaner it is to just wipe your hands of it when something goes awry.

The next step in all of this is to just have our robots battle their robots. Or perhaps have our robots negotiate with their robots. Then, it becomes an arms race of who can make the best robot killing machine (i.e.: Terminators).

We may never again fight a group that has enough money or resources to have their own drones, because then they would be over here wiping us out, and we'd find a solution to the war. No, it will be drones vs. humans.

You don't think China or Russia has the resources or money to threaten us? The Middle East is where all of the fighting is currently ongoing, but they are not the biggest military threat to us, by far. Drones may become the preferred way of fighting, as this president has shown, because there is no loss of life, and therefore, no reason for public outcry against a war.

Yes, they can threaten us, but I don't think they will with drones, because it would be too costly for them if we use drones against them. Those are rational agents. I meant that we would fight groups that don't really own property, or are not a real government, like ISIS. Of course there is loss of life, just not ours. There is a real role for discussing ethics here, and as a country, we aren't having that discussion.

I agree that as a country, there are a great many important issues we should be having serious discussions about. But I'm not going to hold my breath. The last thing our politicians want to do is actually talk about things like ethics…..or honesty.  To be honest, there are too many Americans that don't want to listen to the discussion. (I'm reminded of the movie, Idiocracy.)

Perhaps more families need to have discussions like this with their children, at the dinner table. Or with their favorite brother. In a blog.

I agree! We need to have such discussions everywhere... at home, on the news, at schools. Politicians don't like to have hard conversations, but we need to hold them to a high standard.


  1. How many MORE government list will I be added to after reading this ?

  2. (not the same Anonymous who posted on July 24, 2015)

    The use of drones in war began so recently that the ethics are just beginning to be discussed. (For example, see the online article titled Drones: Legal, Ethical, and Wise? - carnegiecouncil.org). I agree that the ethics of using drones need to be hashed out, and that drones ought to be used ethically. For example, it would be ethical to send drones out after an earthquake to deliver medicine and other necessary items to people in remote areas whose homes have been destroyed. It would also be ethical to send drones out during or after a battle to find the wounded so that they can be medevac’d. Could we begin to develop the ethics of using drones in war by starting with the ethics of using of using similar tools in war--airplanes, intercontinental ballistic missiles, satellites, space stations, etc.?

    Drones are an attractive tool of war because they not only allow soldiers to kill the enemy with practically no risk to themselves, but they also allow that to be done with less collateral damage than if a plane dropped a bomb or if other weapons were used. However, experience has shown that there is still collateral damage when drones are used (think of all of the stories about wedding parties wiped out by drones), and that when we think we have Enemy X in our sights, it really might be someone else.

    Drones may also be like the atom bomb, in that our enemies have (or will soon have) the capability to use them in war, so we want to use them before they do. In fact, ISIS has already begun to use drones as weapons. (For example, see the Washington Post article on ISIS and drones dated 10/11/2016 and the DefenseTech article on ISIS and drones dated 10/24/2016.)

    Another factor in the use of drones is war is that they are relatively cheap to manufacture and operate. They also reduce personnel-related costs--the soldiers who operate them may sustain psychological damage, but the Veterans Health Administration won't have to worry about treating them for traumatic brain injury, missing limbs, etc. when they return from battle.

    Perhaps drones could be used more ethically in war if the rules of war were changed. There is a science fiction/fantasy series set in the home world of extra-terrestrials called atevi. This species has minimized war and collateral damage by making assassination a legal and accepted means of settling disputes, provided proper protocol is followed. One files a document of Intent; the target is entitled to counter-file. If an assassination results in an unacceptable amount of collateral damage, the head of the group that filed the Intent risks multiple groups filing Intent against him or her. The Assassin's Guild has the right, often exercised when Intent is filed for foolish reasons, to reject a particular filing. In this setting, a drone could be used as a tool of assassination, and collateral damage might be less that what we see in real life. However, this system might not work well for human beings; it has the potential to lead to a world-wide Hatfield vs. McCoy scenario.

    There is another science fiction/fantasy series set in a world called Darkover, where the Compact bans all distance weapons; those who seek to kill must themselves face equal risk of death. If we had such a Compact, drones could not be used in war. Realistically, given the existence and power of the military/industrial complex, the chances of our creating and enforcing such a Compact are small.

    I hope that the world's leaders will start a third Hague Convention to update the Geneva Protocol to the Hague Conventions as well as other international treaties regarding war and war crimes, to address the changes that have occurred since the second Convention (in 1907), including limiting or banning the use of drones (especially fully automated drones). Maybe after Inauguration Day (Jan. 20, 2017), we can start petitioning the president, the secretary of state, and others to urge them to call for a third Hague Convention.


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