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Robots at war: the ethics of military drones, cyborgs, and nanobots

Robots at war: the ethics of military drones, cyborgs, and nanobots


In an article originally given as a speech to the CIA, philosopher Patrick Lin describes several potential applications of robotics in war and espionage and discusses the ethical implications of each.

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Plenty of people have debated the value of using drones in war for surveillance and targeted strikes, but most of the discussion has only scratched the surface when it comes to some deeper ethical questions. The CIA's technology venture-capital arm, In-Q-Tel, recently asked philosopher Patrick Lin to elaborate on these issues, and his briefing is now available at The Atlantic. In it, Lin delves into how robots could change the face of warfare, whether by performing dispassionate interrogations or impersonating insects to gather information.

With every new technology, however, comes a practical or moral conundrum. Could a sufficiently intelligent robot refuse an order if it possessed better situational information that its human operator? Would enemies be prohibited from torturing soldiers who had been cybernetically enhanced to resist interrogation? Could military nanobots pose an unacceptable risk to civilians who accidentally inhaled them? Even if you're familiar with the tech the article describes — or the Three Laws of Robotics — it's a fascinating look at the intersection between technology and morality.