Robo Warriors

Will robotic warriors change the law of war? Dr. Ron Arkin is recommending the following constraints, according to a military affairs blogger:

(1) post facto suppression of unethical behavior, (2) behavioral design that incorporates ethical constraints from the onset, (3) the use of affective functions as an adaptive component in the event of unethical action, and (4) a mechanism in support of identifying and advising operators regarding the ultimate responsibility for the deployment of such a system.

On the one hand I instinctively recoil from the idea of a robotic warrior. I sympathize with his unfavorable review of Michael Ignatieff’s Virtual War:

[Ignatieff] looks into the morality and practice of war at long range (or by remote control) using highly accurate weapons, and the persuasive influences of the media, public opinion, and military lawyers. The author turns over many stones only to find a rattlesnake under each one, which he is unable to deal with. His moral uncertainty continues until it causes him to reach the very weak final pages (pp.214-5); though the subject matter here is of central importance, requiring a stronger and less confused hand.

But as the reviewer concedes, Ignatieff counters with the idea that “other nations will begin to produce and deploy long-range precision guided missiles [and other technology] and . . . America will become more vulnerable to attack.” If we agree with that proposition, further investment in robo-warriors seems inevitable. As Herman Kahn suggested in his book On Escalation: Metaphors and Scenarios, “the fear that the other side may react, indeed overreact, is most likely to deter escalation, and not the undesirability or costs of escalation itself.”

Of course, Kahn was considered an inspiration for Dr. Strangelove, so perhaps we should seek counsel elsewhere. Jonathan Schell suggests that the “United States [must] learn that power in the nuclear, postimperial age is diplomatic, not military.” Perhaps a first step toward such diplomacy would involve truly global negotiation on the limits of robo-warfare.