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Panel to Examine Ethics of Robots in War

With the U.S. military already using several types of unmanned vehicles, and technological developments allowing robots to become more and more autonomous, there is some debate about whether that's a good thing.

To look at the matter, Old Dominion University's Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs (IEPA) hosts "Robot Warrior Ethics," a panel discussion examining the ethical issues arising from the use of robots in war, on Wednesday, March 24.

The program, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Chandler Recital Hall of the Diehn Fine and Performing Arts Center.

The panelists are P.W. Singer, senior fellow and director, 21st Century Defense Initiative of the Brookings Institution, and author of the book "Wired for War"; Col. Stephen Irwin, staff judge advocate with U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM); and Lt. Col. Robert Bracknell, deputy judge advocate, JFCOM and Joint Center for Operational Analysis.

"Developments in robotics and artificial intelligence will impact how wars are waged and will also likely impact other facets of human life in the near future," said Yvette Pearson, ODU assistant professor of philosophy and religious studies and an IEPA director. "Hence, it's important for the public to gain at least a basic understanding of the current and future state of the technology."

Pearson added that, unlike other countries where human-robot interaction is more readily accepted in society, most human-robot interaction occurs within the military setting.

Some argue that the increased use and autonomy of robots is a good thing, as robots are less likely to make mistakes due to fatigue, stress, fear or other emotional reactions, and ultimately will put fewer human lives at risk.

However, others argue that the more we remove the human element from war, the less deterred we will be from going into war.

Dale Miller, associate professor of philosophy and religious studies at ODU and an IEPA director, said even without the science fiction image of our machines rising up against us, machine warfare raises moral questions.

"Is a possible future in which we can fight without putting American soldiers at risk one in which we will inevitably be too willing to go to war?" Miller said. "Is it morally permissible for us to delegate life and death decisions to killing machines? Can our traditional understanding of what it is to be a warrior survive the increasing use of unmanned machines in combat? This panel discussion represents an attempt to grapple with these and other similar questions."

This article was posted on: March 19, 2010

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