Of Cyborgs, Robots and The Ethics of Drone Warfare: Revisiting the Human–Machine Interface

Christine Battersby, University of Warwick, UK

‘Our robotic creations are creating new dimensions and dynamics for our human wars and politics that we are only now just beginning to fathom.’

P. W. Singer, Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century (2009)

Since the late 1980s one important strand of feminist theory has deployed the figure of the cyborg to attack the notion that there is any such thing as the “essence” of the human or, indeed, of being a man (male) or a woman (female). A cyborg is a machine–human hybrid, with a body and/or brain that has been internally modified by high-level technology, and it is not only within feminism that the cyborg has emerged as a new kind of hero(ine). Transhumanists advocate “modifying our bodies with technology to become superhuman”, and some 21st-century transhumanists also suggest that there is no fundamental difference between humans and machines.

This talk considers some of the ethical issues that arise in considering warfare conducted by means of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), especially in relation to the notion that many of the decision making functions of the human agent might be delegated to non-humans which would be programmed to take “rational” and relatively autonomous decisions about which (human and non-human) targets should be selected for elimination, containment or observation via the new technologies of war. Distinguishing between three types of ethical systems—virtue ethics, consequentialist systems and deontological models—it argues none of these can adequately deal with moral responsibility in the absence of human agents.

Women & Gender Studies Center
Johnson Center 240K