Armed Robots and Military Virtue
This article examines how the accelerated development of semi-autonomous or autonomous armed robots may challenge traditional conceptions of military virtue. While early reflections on the ethical implications of military robotics have focused primarily on utilitarian or deontological/rule-based considerations rather than questions of virtue or character, a comprehensive inquiry into the ethical impact of armed military robots must not ignore the role of military virtue in restraining and legitimizing armed conflict. Armed military robots problematize this role in three ways: first, by potentially leveling the distinction between mere military action and virtuous military service; second, by possibly diminishing the scope of the military profession and its cultivation of military virtue; and third, by undercutting the expectation of virtuous motivation in warfare that gives rules of engagement at least some restraining force and helps to distinguish the practice of war from mercenary or criminal violence. I suggest that by initiating or accelerating such shifts in the meaning and practical scope of military virtue, the widespread deployment of armed military robots may have ethically deleterious effects on human soldiers and civilians independently of whether optimistic utilitarian predictions of reduced casualties and collateral damage are realized.
- Alach, Zhivan. 2011. The new Aztecs: Ritual and restraint in contemporary western military operations. U.S. Army War College/Strategic Studies Institute, http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/display.cfm?pubID=1076. Accessed 27 Nov 2011.
- Aristotle. 1984. The complete works of Aristotle: Revised Oxford translation, ed. J. Barnes. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Arkin, Ronald C. 2010. The case for ethical autonomy in unmanned systems. Journal of Military Ethics 9:332–341.Google Scholar
- Arquilla, John. 2011. Insurgents, raiders, and bandits: How masters of irregular warfare have shaped our world. Lanham: Ivan R. Dee.Google Scholar
- Asaro, Peter. 2008. How just could a robot war be? In Current issues in computing and philosophy, eds. P. Brey, A. Briggle and K. Waelbers, 50–64. Amsterdam: IOS Press.Google Scholar
- Bryson, Joanna J. and Philip P. Kime. 2011. Just an artifact: why machines are perceived as moral agents. In: Proceedings of the 22nd international joint conference on artificial intelligence, 1641–1646. Barcelona: Morgan Kaufmann.Google Scholar
- Conway, James T. 2007. Mental health advisory team (MHAT) IV brief. U.S. Army Medical Department. www.armymedicine.army.mil/news/releases/20070504mhat.cfm. Accessed 22 Nov 2011.
- Hursthouse, Rosalind. 1999. On virtue ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Kennedy, Robert G. 2000. Why military officers must have training in ethics. International Society for Military Ethics. http://isme.tamu.edu/JSCOPE00/Kennedy00.html. Accessed 22 Nov 2011.
- Lin, Patrick, Abney Keith and Bekey George. 2008. Autonomous military robotics: Risk, ethics and design. U.S. Department of Defense/Office of Naval Research, http://ethics.calpoly.edu/ONR_report.pdf. Accessed 22 November 2011.
- Pfaff, Tony. 2011. Resolving ethical challenges in an era of persistent conflict. U.S. Army War College/Strategic Studies Institute. http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/display.cfm?pubID=1058. Accessed 22 Nov 2011.
- Santayana, George. 1905. The life of reason: Reason in society. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.Google Scholar
- Singer, Peter W. 2003. Corporate warriors: The rise of the privatized military industry. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
- Singer, Peter W. 2009. Wired for war: The robotics revolution and 21st century conflict. New York: Penguin Group.Google Scholar
- Snider, Don M., John A. Nagl and Tony Pfaff. 1999. Army professionalism, the military ethic and officership in the 21st century. U.S. Army War College/Strategic Studies Institute. http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/display.cfm?pubid=282. Accessed 22 Nov 2011.
- Thornton, Rod. 2007. Asymmetric warfare: Threat and response in the 21st century. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
- Yearley, Lee H. 1990. Mencius and Aquinas: Theories of virtue and conceptions of courage. Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar