One of the most innovative technologies used anywhere – and especially in our military – is unmanned or autonomous systems, sometimes called “drones.” These military drones have been talked about a great deal in all media, especially armed drones which are often operated by the U.S. intelligence agencies or our military to take out suspected terrorists.
Few security issues are more controversial. In an effort to shed some light in an area where there is mostly heat, I published an article with Faircount Media entitled “The Other Side of Autonomy.”
A few salient quotes from this article capture the controversy surrounding “drone wars.”
In an article entitled, “Morals and the Machine,” The Economist addressed the issue of autonomy and humans-in-the-loop this way:
As they become smarter and more widespread, autonomous machines are bound to end up making life-or-death decisions in unpredictable situations, thus assuming—or at least appearing to assume—moral agency. Weapons systems currently have human operators “in the loop”, but as they grow more sophisticated, it will be possible to shift to “on the loop” operation, with machines carrying out orders autonomously. As that happens, they will be presented with ethical dilemmas…More collaboration is required between engineers, ethicists, lawyers and policymakers, all of whom would draw up very different types of rules if they were left to their own devices.
Bill Keller put the issue of autonomy for unmanned systems this way in his Op-ed, “Smart Drones,” in the New York Times in March 2013:
If you find the use of remotely piloted warrior drones troubling, imagine that the decision to kill a suspected enemy is not made by an operator in a distant control room, but by the machine itself. Imagine that an aerial robot studies the landscape below, recognizes hostile activity, calculates that there is minimal risk of collateral damage, and then, with no human in the loop, pulls the trigger. Welcome to the future of warfare. While Americans are debating the president’s power to order assassination by drone, powerful momentum – scientific, military and commercial – is propelling us toward the day when we cede the same lethal authority to software.
Looking ahead to this year and beyond, it is clear that “drone warfare” will continue to be extremely controversial. Stay tuned!
Click here to read the entire article (PDF)