The Ethics of Killer Bots

Screen Shot 2018-03-28 at 10.05.01 AM

Still from “Slaughterbots,” a Youtube video by autonomousweapons.org

Here are two linked videos. This one is fake and terrifying. The other is real and gee-whiz cool. It is possible for the same reality to be cool and terrifying at the same time.

I believe this technology is inevitable. We need to be planning for how to control it, defend against it, and hold people accountable for its abuse. Killer bots have already been used in law enforcement. Integrating AI into the use of killer bots is as predictable as self-driving cars.

We even know how it will be sold: tired of police shooting unarmed black men? Let robots make the decisions instead.

Of course, you can hear that last sentence several different ways.

I know that there are plenty of public conversations about ethics we’re not having, because we are overwhelmed with the kleptocrat-in-chief’s rejection of all previous norms. But technological progress isn’t stopping for humanity to have remedial lessons on conflicts of interest, consent, nepotism, and civil behavior. It is scary to think of him having access to nuclear weapons. It is scarier to think of people like him using this technology.

Autonomous killer bots should also figure into debates about the second amendment. Should private citizens have access to swarming armed drones? Why not?

It is almost quaint how apologists for the NRA think they will be able to stave off next-generation tyrants with their guns. Ballots, not bullets, are the way we fight tyranny. It requires us to have a prophetic imagination that allows us to think beyond the next election cycle, and to see how our technology affects our behavior over decades. It requires us to make decisions as a community and to recognize that there are some things we have to address for the common good.

Killer bots already exist. Our moral imagination has to catch up.

[edit]: I remain in awe of how Star Trek predicted so many technologies and the social questions they would raise. Remember this episode?

2 thoughts on “The Ethics of Killer Bots

  1. Truly frightening. Not that much difference between the imaginary and the actual. How on earth do we control this?

    • I think the Geneva protocols and the executive order against state-sponsored assassination give us a model, but it requires us to draw the attention of national leaders to it. Drone warfare has begun to push the boundary of what gets defined as “police action” and “combat.”

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