As children the notion of unmanned aerial attack vehicles, engaging human targets with their computer brains, was reserved for the realm of dystopian science fiction. However, vehicles that can fly autonomously are possessed by the military of the United States and Israel. Machines that engage human targets under no direct supervision by a pilot are thus no longer the realm of imagination – but of ethical discussion. Milan has discussed the topic on his blog. Rather than recognize the dystopic aspects of UAVs, he prefers to see them in a positive light:
“I think the fact that robots would not be subject to emotions like fear, the desire for vengeance, or lust does provide a reasonable chance that they could be made to behave more ethically than human soldiers.I think the fact that robots would not be subject to emotions like fear, the desire for vengeance, or lust does provide a reasonable chance that they could be made to behave more ethically than human soldiers.”
He is of course, right. Personally, I don’t find the ethical discussion concerning UAV’s particularly compelling. What is interesting is that the US army sees the need to participate in this discussion – see here a report they commissioned on UAVs, responsibility, and laws of war.
On the surface, the discussion surrounding UAVs isn’t futuristic at all. And of course, it isn’t – it’s impossible to have a futuristic discussion about something which already exists. My point is rather that the fact that UAVs are not even recognized as harbingers for a dystopic future is a sign that we are already in it. The cruel joke about the future, featured in Leonard Cohen’s song, the film No Country for Old Men, even Natural Born Killers – is that the future has already arrived. In comparison, even the worst atrocities of the past are easy to comprehend.
From Cohen’s song:
“Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing, Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned the order of the soul”