British Defense Ministry: Sort Out Drone Ethics Before SKYNET Wipes Out Humanity

Wednesday, April 20, 2011
By Paul Martin

By Adam Rawnsley
Wired.com

Britain’s Ministry of Defense would like British policymakers to start discussing the ethical development and use of unmanned aerial systems — before the Rise of the Machines, that is.

As first reported by The Guardian, a new study published by the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense warns that tackling the ethics of drones is important to do now, before we’re up to our ears in robots. “The UK Approach to Unmanned Aircraft Systems” by the Ministry’s in-house think tank nudges British defense planners to question whether their growing reliance on unmanned systems will make war too remote (and frequent) or allow robots to take on responsibilities that may be better suited for humans.

“It is essential that, before unmanned systems become ubiquitous (if it is not already too late) that we consider this issue and ensure that, by removing some of the horror, or at least keeping it at a distance,” it warns, “we do not risk losing our controlling humanity and make war more likely.”

The report also points to U.S. drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan as proof of how unmanned systems have made the use of force likelier in places where commanders may have otherwise opted out. “That these activities are exclusively carried out by unmanned aircraft, even though very capable manned aircraft are available, and that the use of ground troops in harm’s way has been avoided, suggests that the use of force is totally a function of the existence of an unmanned capability,” it argues.

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