Australian Academic Begs The World To Stop Making 'Killer Robots'

In the same way that schoolkids are urged not to do drugs and university students are urged not to have sex (who are they even kidding), an Australian ethicist has urged the international community to stop making militarised, "killer" robots like the Predator drone as they're only serving to lower the bar for a new world conflict. Wait, what?

Dr Robert Sparrow, a philosopher from Victoria's Monash University is the man behind these calls, and he's authored a paper called Just Say 'No' To Robots.

The Dr Sparrow in his paper talks about the risk that robots like drones and UAVs pose to governments:

Military robots are making it easier for governments to start wars, thinking that they won't incur any casualties on their own side...[but] the ethics of working on military robotics today cannot be entirely divorced from the ethics of the ends to which military robots are used

When you look at the problem Dr Sparrow talks about, it's not actually that far off the mark. It took one man with a gun to set off a European powder-keg that descended into the first World War. Could a state-sanctioned assassination via drone strike trigger a regional or even a global conflict?

Furthering his point, Dr Sparrow says that because so many robotics projects now have military applications, conscientious objectors and those who don't want their research used for military applications will struggle more and more to find work in the field.

Given how much robotics research is funded by the military, engineering students looking for a job or a place to undertake their doctorates may face a choice between working on a military project or not gaining entry into their desired profession at all.

Is robotics a slippery slope that spirals down to make killing people easier? Or is this just an anti-war academic demonising the new weapons of conflict? [Monash]

Image: Charles McCain



    If only he wasn't an 'ethicist'

    Ha ha good catch, though I agree that military drones are evil.

    Pretty sure the second world war was set off by several hundred thousand guys with guns rolling into Poland in 1939.... getting your wars mixed up guys.
    Also, I think you may have read into this in an overly simplistic way. There are some serious dilemmas that will be faced by International relations theorists if the loss of human life is removed , at least initially, from future wars.

      You're right about WWII. I had my global conflicts confused.

      He said 'first' world war, not second - and he's right, the 1st WW was started by an assassin killing the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand

        WWI was not really set off by the assassination of the Austrian Duke; had the Duke not bee killed the war would still have occurred as it was the result of years of built up tension in Europe and the accompanying arms race that had begun in the 18th century.

          +1 there were dozens of reasons for ww1 if it wasn't one it would have been any of the others.

    What would be wrong with a new world conflict? We are massively over-populated, and mostly bored; it would be a great way to liven things up. After all, who really wants to die of old age or spend months/years being eaten away from the inside by cancer? A shard of shrapnel in the brainbox would be far more dignified.

      Sounds like the words of an angry, lonely 30-something yr old man who locks himself in his bedroom each night playing Call of Duty with his online 'friends', shaking his fist between respawns at the sheeple overpopulating the earth. Why don't you enlist in the army and go and serve in Afghanistan if you want to 'liven things up' in your life, let's see how dignified you feel when you come back with half your limbs missing. There is nothing great about war.

        10 points from Gryffindor for using the term Sheeple.

          can you award those points back if the term "sheeple" is towards Apple users?

        Or perhaps a former Infantryman who left the army because we never got to do any of the things he signed up for. And for the record, I am 50-something, have far too little time to myself and I have not played a computer game since the days of Windows 95, although I'm sure it makes you feel better about the world to think that most sheeple think exactly the same way you do. I don't enjoy feeling comfortable, I thrive on conflict and privation, always have.

        What we are doing in Afghanistan is not what the Infantry should be doing. To quote the manual, "the role of the infantry is to seek out and close with the enemy, to kill or capture him, to seize and hold ground and to repel attack, by day or by night, regardless of season, weather or terrain". It has nothing to do with mentoring or winning heart and minds. What they are doing over there is mostly police work. Consequently their hands are tied, which makes it incredibly dangerous. All out war is a much better bet and it is what soldiers are trained and equipped for.

          I swear you're Angry Anderson.

          Can I just be the first to to politely say that you obviously did too many drugs in your backyard while pretending it was Vietnam? Given you'd be happy for hundreds of millions of people to die for your own personal pleasure, this explains so much about your pessimistic attitude towards pretty much anything. Good to know I can just ignore everything under your username from now on.

        Advocating war as a way to reduce population is about as offensive a suggestion as I've heard for a long time! I also served as an Combat Engineer, but unlike you I didn't get out because I didn't get to kill anyone!

      And then that shard of shrapnel misses your head and hits a nerve to all motor control from the lower body, not fun...

        Same could happen in a car accident - you pay your money and take your chances. On a global battlefield you'd probably die form such injuries anyway, or have a mate do the right thing.

        LOL, so not a COD player, but rather a miserable crappy guy with a shitty life whose time in the Army didn't reflect his boyhood fantasies of blowing shit up. OP stands corrected.

      Arn't you the same guy that thinks you shouldn't be able to use a Bluetooth kit in a car ? but apparently world war isn't a problem.

    At the moment people control the robots so I see little difference to conventional weapons in terms of ethics. Contact me when skynet becomes self aware.

      people control the robots... from a desk, far far away... it's very different to holding a gun, because if you're firing a gun, you fire it knowing that someone else might fire back... this 'send in the drones' ideal relinquishes that threat, making it easier to pull the trigger... i think that's what the academic is getting at, and i completely support that hey...

        But it is not so different from a pilot reporting for duty after a comfortable night with his family, climbing into his B2 Stealth Bomber, flying somewhere and carpet bombing someone into the Stone Age before flying home and rejoining his family, is it? There is a minimally greater risk for the B-2 pilot but probably a greater disconnect from what is happening on the ground. Predator drones are a much more intimate part of the battlefield.

        Regular pilots drop a bomb and that about it, nothing comes of it if a wrong grid is given to them and it hits a school while UAV and Helicopter pilots have to watch and re-watch thier camera footage again and again to ensure what they did was just and lawful, if anything UAV Pilots are probably under more stress, recnetly there was a report saying UAV operators act refexively the same way a pilot would in combat, when getting shot at from the ground the duck and bank away instinctively, they're not mindless drones in the seat(s) the only differance is unlike many pilots before them they get to go home and see their family another day.

          The fact they can come home and have a normal life is part of the problem. The biggest problem the US had with Vietnam was no one liked sending there son, boy friend, brother, husband over seas for a large amount of time, where he might die; if you don' have that personal connection from the war to the public, it becomes too easy to justify invasion.

      I agree with the ethicist, but his words are falling on deaf ears. I mean come on, death at your fingertips! Power like that comes with one hell of a buzz. The only way to change the way of the power junkoe is to have his own tech bite him on the ass: said ethicist needs to become a bit of a hacker and send a US drone back to the pentagon with a nasty payload and a taste for kamikaze.

    May be timely to re read "War With the Robots" by Harry Harrison. Where the commanders at the desks get replaced by robots who are controlling the robots doing battle with the enemy robots.

    With luck he isn't prescient.....

    I remember when i was at monash and nearly every final year thesis for elec eng was on UAV's!

    As long as "We"are the only ones with robots.
    In a robotic war there is ONLY collateral damage. The warriors are home, safe and cosy.

    Obviously the idea is for the future generations not to have things like wars, but we are ever growing in population and we got nothing else to do.

      For everyone using the reduce population argument, i would STRONGLY recommend watching David Attenborough's "How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth"!

    Even if they weren't serious about it, every one should have a look at it.

    UAS Tech isn't Bad per se....
    There are many applications for it in Civilian practice.

    But the regulations designed to keep everyone safe are too restrictive ,and the technology (probably) needs a little more time to mature....

    In the end, the cost of operations for a UAS which meets all (forseeable, as not actually legislated) regulations will not actually be any/ a lot cheaper than an equivalent aircraft certified for IFR and Cooperative airspace management. The only real benefit is that the payload space isn't occupied with humans, who can as well operate from the ground in many situations... the structure isn't configured in such a way as to allow habitation...(frees up the design a lot), and the operators can changeover without bringing the aircraft down. Fully autonomous operation is more than possible, especially for simple repetitive tasks, though it will probably never be actually legal. Everyone always wants a human to blame for cockups, and the engineering companies will never put themselves on the line like that.

    When it comes to killing, Burt Rutan advocates optionally manned aircraft, putting the human on the scene (stopping short of calling robotic assassinations a crime against humanity)... in complex situations it is easier to understand it when you can see what is around... In the end society has to answer is killing ever right. Wouldn't it be so much better for us to just build walls around the countries which aren't socially acceptable.

    I would advocate that it never makes sense to go to war, in the end no-one wins, only the bankers and arms traders and they have to live with themselves.

    How is this not obvious to everyone?

    We now have wars waged by people with no connection to the battle. They get up, drive to work, fly a drone kill people. Then home in time for dinner with their family.

    There's a reason why the vast majority of people killed in conflicts are now civilians and not soldiers.

      You may want to check the number of civilian deaths in Vietnam and ww2 I'd hardly say vast majority. These days civilian casualties and quite low.

    Isn't this like the same argument that was had with tanks and before that guns and before th.......

    You know less people are dying these days then in the previous wars.

    its because our weapons have been far less indiscriminate. Laser, GPS guided weapons and other automation and robotic systems have made fighting wars less about carpet bombing and more about targeting individuals.

    Indeed the warheads that these drones far are being reduced in sized because of the advancings in targeting. The same thing happen with nuclear weapons. As they became more precise there was no longer any requirement to have a megaton sized weapon. Instead MIRV systems with multiple warheads were created. Yes technically this mean we could destroy more land but ultimately what it meant that with targeting with metre scales that you could deliver a 200kt weapon against an enemy installation. There was never much intention to target cities (unless the authorities were stupid enough to put a military installation in the city).

    So in my view robotics and computer systems equal small weapons and ultimately less casualties and damage.

    Wake up students of the world! Most of us don't get into our desired professions....

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