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Drone Warfare

by on December 6, 2012

I found this short documentary film about the development of robots in warfare. It covers the development of US drones which are being enhanced constantly by companies such as iRobot (like the film). It also poses the question of how automated war impacts on human rights laws.

“7,000 drones and 12,000 ground robots used by the U.S. military are changing warfare as we currently know it, with major implications for the future of human rights.”

Robots such as the PacBot, which finds and destroys IUDs (improvised explosives) in warfare, is saving lives and has been for a number of years. Vice Admiral Joe Dyer from iRobot commented on how before the introduction of the PacBot into Iraq and Afghanistan it was our brothers, sisters, uncles and fathers who were sent to find IUDs, an immensely dangerous and almost fatal job. So in this instance isn’t the introduction of automata into war a positive thing? Well yes. However this is only a minor example of how robots are impacting warfare.

The US drone development and companies like Tardec, which used to build tanks now are developing robots which will be able to make decisions that would have previously been made by a human. This is a complete transfer of agency, and is already being used by the CIA. The CIA have been using drones to target and kill individuals and it’s only a matter of time, according to the experts, until this will be introduced into the military.

This made me consider Jane Goodall’s article Transferred Agencies: Performance and the Fear of Automatism, in which she noted that in the 1930s there was cultural anxiety surrounding the transfer of agency from human to machinery in industry. For me, automatous warfare is creating cultural anxiety in our society. In this film there is a clear worry that robots would need to be as clever as humans in order to replace them in battle, and so that is the aim. I became anxious when Dr Ron Arkin a roboticist says that humans are inferior to drones in warfare, as we have emotions such as fear, anger and frustration and these can be programmed out of a robot but not a human. And they are even able to programme the robots with a set of morals which would mean they have the capacity to kill without the need of human instructions.

But what does this do to the tradition of warfare where it is a sacrifice of human life and nature? Who wins when it’s robot vs. robot? Also it poses many problems concerning human rights, as there have already been reported drone attacks leading to hundreds of civilian deaths.  

Despite the cultural anxiety surrounding this topic, it is inevitable, billions of dollars are being invested into this and it is stated in the film that stopping drone development would be stopping the most important scientific development in history. It seems throughout history we have wanted to replace humans with a machine ultimately for efficiency. However only now do these machines need to be as intelligent as humans in order to take on human responsibilities which could have devastating consequences.  Are we making the human race inferior to robots by trying to make the human race immortal?


Nora 🙂


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One Comment
  1. katcory2012 permalink

    That’s really interesting Nora how you say that we as a race are creating a force which is leaving us inferior, and it is something that i completely agree with. A point you raised, or that someone in the programme stated, was that robots have an advantage over us in warfare being that they do not feel emotions. Whilst this seems to be helpful in the fact of being courageous and not letting any feelings get in the way of fulfilling their duty, it is this distinct difference between robot and human that is the most harmful – you hear of mines and such exploding childrens limbs in Afghanistan and places of war. It seems by creating robots without this transfer of a human soul is a dangerous attribute to mess with, however, if agency was completely transferred onto these robots created for war purposes, would that make them even more of a threat if they were given means to feel anger and hatred joined with a mechanically superior strength? This cultural anxiety of robots taking over the human race and the transfer of agency does not however seem to falter the construction and improvement of such machines. Whilst society remains fearful of the implications these robots of warfare can create, their development does not desist. There will always be the strive for bigger and better and it’s something that i cannot see changing. Even with the fact of nuclear weapons, a device that can destroy entire countries, governments still keep these as ways of protection, even though the consequences if used would be catastrophic. Not only this, but surely this mechanical engineering would prevail among the richer countries. Imagine America building an army of war orientated robots. The technology and advanced nature of these devices would greatly succeed that of any poorer country. If George Bush had access to these creations would his war on terror be an easy defeat ? Apparently it was something that was very much on his mind, from looking at one of his more memorable quotes “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”
    Well done George, lets kill everyone.

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