Book Review: Death Machines: The Ethics of Violent Technologies by Elke Schwarz

The ethical concerns raised by Elke Schwarz in her new book, Death Machines: The Ethics of Violent Technologies, help situate the use of armed drones in a deeper discussion of our modern political landscape and point to the issues that must be addressed through substantial ethical reasoning. For those not familiar with political theory and ethics, this book is at times quite dense. Nonetheless, it is essential reading for those working with or on the issue of drones, autonomy and AI to engage with the ever-increasing use of violent technologies, regarding both the physical death they inflict and the ethical death in the wake of their use.

Framed by Schwarz’s biopolitical interpretation of Hannah Arendt’s theories, Death Machines asks how we have allowed violent technologies to become the right choice when dealing with problems that threaten society. Hannah Arendt judged that modernity’s movement towards the efficient management of society, relegated plurality and consequently equality among varied people and beliefs. Read more

“Here’s their actual stories, make of them what you will.” Dr Peter Lee on ‘Britain’s Reaper Force’

Dr Peter Lee

On 4th October, a ground-breaking book on the UK’s use of armed drones will be published by John Blake Ltd.  Reaper Force: The Inside Story of Britain’s Drone Wars‘ is the result of conversations that have taken place over several years between Dr Peter Lee of Portsmouth University and RAF Reaper crews and their partners at Creech AFB in Nevada and RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. A week before publication, Drone Wars sat down with Peter to chat about the new book.

CC: We’ve met each many times having discussed these issues at conferences and in broadcast studios, but for the benefit of our readers, can I ask you to say a little about how you got into this field of research? Read more

Book review: ‘Army of None: Autonomous weapons and the future of war’ by Paul Scharre

Paul Scharre’s new book on autonomous weapons begins with an account of an incident he experienced while on patrol as a US Army Ranger in Afghanistan in 2004.  A young girl of five or six years old herding a couple of goats approached Scharre’s team while they were taking cover in the mountains.  As she looped around them, frequently glancing towards them, they realised she had a radio and was reporting their position, acting as a spotter for Taliban fighters.

What should the soldiers do?  According to the laws of war, the girl was an enemy combatant whom they were allowed to shoot.  If a person is participating in hostilities, regardless of their age, they are a lawful target for engagement.

Scharre and his squad had no doubt that it would have been quite wrong to kill the little girl, and so they moved away and regrouped in a safer area.  But what would a machine have done in their place?  If it had been programmed to kill enemy combatants lawfully, it would Read more

Book Review: ‘The Humanitarian Impact of Drones’

  • The Humanitarian Impact of Drones, edited by Ray Acheson, Matthew Bolton, Elizabeth Minor, and Allison Pytlak,  Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), 2017

The Humanitarian Impact of Drones is, as Chris Heynes says in the preface, “a most welcome contribution to a vital debate,” chiefly because it extends beyond the legal lens used to consider the rights and wrongs of particular targeted killings, often the criticism which dominates the debate on the use of armed drones. Instead, split in to two parts, the report covers broader humanitarian ‘impacts’ and ‘perspectives.’ It includes its fair share of discussion on the impacts of targeted killings and the legal perspectives on these actions but chapters range from the impact on peace and security and the environment, to gender-based and religious perspectives. Throughout, the chapters are interspersed with case studies from countries or regions, relating to the various topics covered. The report moves between practical, theoretical and legal frameworks to offer a comprehensive understanding of the nature of drone warfare in its fullest sense. Read more

Book Review: ‘Swarm Troopers’ by David Hambling

‘Swarm Troopers’ has been around for a while, but nevertheless deserves reviewing and remains a worthwhile read and an important contribution to writing on drones and warfare.  It was originally published in December 2015, yet in this fast moving field we are already beginning to see some of the outcomes that author David Hambling predicts taking shape.

“The future will bring new generations of increasingly capable small drones at ever lower costs.  Large numbers of them will be more formidable opponents than the handful of armed Predator / Reaper drones currently in service.”

This is the central thesis of ‘Swarm Troopers’: that in the modern world there is a trend for things to get smaller yet more powerful; that Read more

Book Review: ‘Military Robots: Mapping the Moral Landscape’ by Jai Galliott

jai-galliottThe use of military unmanned systems, commonly known as drones, has begun to be one of those subjects with which a variety of popular and academic commentators have utilised to discuss a range of divergent topics. The number of books that actually focus in granular detail on unmanned systems themselves and the consequences of their use can be counted more or less on one hand. Thankfully Jai Galliott’s work can now be added to that number.

Focusing on ethics, Military Robots: Mapping the Moral Landscape, reviews the relevant arguments for using unmanned systems and examines the key criticisms under the broad lens of just war theory. In many ways the book is an extended dialogue with the Bradley Strawser edited volume ‘Killing by Remote Control: The Ethics of Unmanned Military and Christian Enemark’s ‘Armed Drones and the Ethics of War’, both key works but coming from very different perspectives.

Key issues with which Galliott usefully grapples include the implication of reduced risk for users of unmanned systems Read more