Friday, February 19, 2010
Jobs, morals, and warbots
"The U.S. military is by far the biggest designer and purchaser of weapons in the world. But it is also the most inefficient."
--P.W. Singer, Brookings Institute, Wired for war: The robotics revolution and conflict in the 21st century. (p. 256)
We are supposedly heading down the rabbit hole into a future of warbots waging destruction on all US enemies all over the world without endangering any more Americans. All we have to do is fork over all our money and accept far fewer jobs created per $B spent on security and, oh yes, ignore human rights and the rules of war.
Warbots are one extremely naive and touchingly simplistic science fiction. Meanwhile, they are generating massive funding for the rich elites who have been gorging at the bloody war trough all along.
Ethics, morals and unenforceable rules of warfare as understood by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court--in other words, the closest thing humanity has to a consensus on when it is permissible engage in war and how war must be conducted--all these are avoided or assuaged by the corporate and research profiteers because they interfere with business.
As Cicero noted back in the day, in war, the law is silent. We make these laws, but when the Predator and Reaper warbots attack targets and kill civilians, no one is held accountable under any law. We may proclaim from the margins, but in fact there are no bodies willing or able to enforce the rules of war on...what...the 'pilots' 7,000 miles away? The commanders? Centcom? President Obama?
Civilians--many utterly innocent, many children--are killed with these godawful things. Jane Mayer in an Oct 26, 2009 story in The New Yorker, reported that in one instance in Pakistan, "a drone targeted the wrong house, hitting the residence of a pro-government tribal leader six miles outside the town of Wana, in South Waziristan. The blast killed the tribal leader’s entire family, including three children, one of them five years old. In keeping with U.S. policy, there was no official acknowledgment."
Science fiction holds that we can digitize human rights, ethics, even emotions and morals. Let's see that in benign civilian applications long before we test it out on poor tribespeople in Central Asia or the Middle East. If we cannot get robots working productively and making moral choices and legally correct choices in the US doing good civilian work, we cannot morally set them loose with weapons.
Jane Mayer (26 October 2009). The Predator War: What are the risks of the C.I.A.’s covert drone program? The New Yorker.
Singer, P. W. (2009). Wired for war: The robotics revolution and conflict in the 21st century. New York: Penguin.