Friday, December 16, 2011

David, Goliath and Robots

Patrick Lin, Ph.D. is the director of the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group, based at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.  Yesterday The Atlantic published a readable post of some length. Mr. Lin’s “briefing about the ethics of drones…[is] a thorough and unnerving survey of what it might mean for the intelligence service to deploy different kinds of robots.

The “usual reason” robots are deployed, Mr. Lin summarized, is to do jobs, which are dull, dirty and dangerous. Those three Ds are disquieting. To them Mr. Lin added an unnerving one: “a new, fourth ‘D’ that’s worth considering, [is] the ability to act with dispassion.” Some examples:
  • If doctors won’t violate their oath to do no harm and refuse to torture others or inject them with dangerous materials, would robots be used for that?
  • If robots can fire with near-total accuracy, then states using them would “violate a rule by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which bans weapons that cause more than 25% field mortality and 5% hospital mortality.”
  • How do we clean up after [microbots and disposable robots]? If we don’t, and they’re tiny—for instance, nanosensors—then they could then be ingested or inhaled by animals or people.
How did humans get to this? That question was not entertained in this briefing.

Wiki-diagram by Leonidl of a Skeet drone is used according to the CC BY 2.0 license.

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