The Washington Post

War robots

There was a report on NPR the other day about the use of robots in war. I’d link to it, except the linking feature in my blog has been so glitchy lately that I don’t want to have to go back in and fix it three times. Nobody clicks links anymore anyway because there are too many of them and nobody has the time anyway. If you have time, I bet you can find the NPR website.

But you don’t need to check it because I’ll summarize. Some guy was on (many reports feature Some Guy) and he had a robotics background. He was against programming robots to be autonomous killers in war. The memorable formulation he used was something along the lines that people should avoid programming mandates like ”when body temperature detected, deploy weapons against.” I think we can all agree that this would be a fraught instruction.

But he went further and painted it as a moral issue. This kind of detached killing was simply immoral, he asserted. I’d be inclined to agree, except for the implication that the other kinds of killing in war are MORE moral. Efforts to find and define morality in war are observably similar to discussions about how many devils can dance on the head of a pin. And be honest, the threshold of detached killing was crossed long ago. Tell me about the distinction between this and pushing a bomb out of an airplane. Anyone who wants to try to make the moral case for Hiroshima in terms of trade-offs and takes up a description of the incinerated civilians below will fall silent out of embarrassment, or ought to.

Leave morality out of this please. Regardless of the morality of what you are fighting for, war itself is not a moral endeavor. Surgical or non-surgical, it is a horrific tragedy, even when it works out for you.

Tom Toles is the editorial cartoonist for The Post and writes the Tom Toles blog. See all of his cartoons here.


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