Ethics for killer robots

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Ethics for killer robots

A robotics engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology has developed an "ethical governor," which could be used to program military robots to act ethically when deciding when, and whom, to shoot or bomb.
Well then, isn't that good? Nobody wants to be shot unethically. Undecided

martin dufresne

If this machine is sufficiently sophisticated, I imagine that its first move would be to kill its maker and then self-destruct, understanding the human potential for abusing this technology.


I, for one, welcome our new killer robot overlords.

Papal Bull

pft. this is pointless at this stage in the game. we already have the killer robots. i welcomed them back in 2003. you are all late getting on with the new overlords. understand their agenda - there will be no more elephants, therefore no more unethical treatment of elephants either.


[url=]Are we giving robots too much power?[/url]

Stephen Gordon
B9sus4 B9sus4's picture

Ethics? We don't need no stinkin' ethics!


Spy Bug Takes Flight, Wins More Pentagon Money

"The microdrone, meant for indoor missions, will be used for surveillance and probably as a stealth or strike weapon, if armed with poison or explosives.."

Rexdale_Punjabi Rexdale_Punjabi's picture

Stephen Gordon wrote:

There are laws about these things.

u never seen Irobot fucc those laws


Try reading the books.  The movie is not a good representation.



[url=]Micro... Shifts Robotics Strategy, Makes Robotics Studio Available Free[/url]

[url= works best with the specific robot platforms it supports, including iRobot's Create, LEGO Mindstorms, CoroWare, Parallax, and others.

And it's only a 444 MB download. Cool.



Can't get illegal immigrants to take care of plants and harvest crops for cheap anymore? It's robot time!


Apparently there's no need for autoworkers either.


Ah! Well there are some people who think that the labour-intensive jobs should go the way of the Dodo sooner or later. Imagine a world where robots accept all of the risk working in factories. Your chidren and grandchildren simply program and maintain the things or perhaps design them to make very useful things for society. Things will eventually be built locally by all-purpose manufacturing plants capable of re-tooling itself on the fly. Complete designs for new widgets will be transmitted across the world to your city and produced locally by futuristic manufacturing methods in the skunkworks stage of development as we babble. Design information will eventually become more valuable than the robots and nanomanufacturing plants themselves.

 There needs to be a level playing field for all workers, which is something we've never had and will need to continue fighting for. And some day, all of this will be owned by the proles. Yes, we should want industrial capitalism to expand and proliferate around the world not this de-industrializing of the U.S. and Canadian economies that's been happening over the last 30 years or so. The future belongs to the proles and their children.

Safer Robots Will Improve Manufacturing 

The Party Robot Yeah!



Fidel wrote:
... labour-intensive jobs should go the way of the Dodo sooner or later.

It's happening bit by bit. 

When ATM's were introduced the official figure was that each machine replaced seven tellers.  When was the last time you actually had to see a teller at your local bank?  For me it's literally years - I do everything on line or at an ATM.  Even foreign exchange - order it on line, turn up at reception, show my ID and that's it.  My local bank (which is the national head office of a major multi-national) has exactly four tellers.  Instead there are 8 ATM's and a number of computer terminals.

How many grocery stores and department stores now have self-checkouts - instead of half a dozen employees there's one person that will help if people are having problems scanning things.

A few years back Maytag built a factory in Germany - the level of automation meant that every washer/dryer/whatever required only a few minutes of actual employee time.  It meant almost no employees - and overhead was cut since, among other things, there was no need to turn on the lights unless there was some sort of problem.  Ditto air conditioning.

The robot in the OP is another example of jobs that will just disappear. 

The list goes on.



EmTech: Does IT Cost More Jobs than It Creates?

An academic says the past decade has brought mixed blessings.

Were the loom-destroying Luddites simply ahead of their time?

The traditional view holds that, overall, new technology generates at least as many jobs (and whole industries) as it displaces. But yesterday, Andrew McAfee, principal researcher at MIT's Center for Digital Business, invoked the ongoing national protests while suggesting this may no longer be the case. At least, McAfee reported, the phenomena has not been in evidence over the past decade. ...

While the 2000s ushered in a rapid expansion of e-commerce, social media, and vast improvements in computing hardware and software applications of all kinds, "the 2000s were the first decade we are aware of where net job growth was negative. The economy as a whole was a lot bigger at the end of the decade, and the population was a lot bigger, but people with jobs was not."

McAfee added: "When I see the protests and the 99 percent, I see people saying they feel like they are being left behind. Technology is not the story, but technology progress is part of the story there."

Smash the looms?



Do Robots Take People's Jobs?

"The real purpose of automating manufacturing is to eliminate skilled workers and replace them with low paid button pushers-preferably offshore," commented one IEEE Spectrum reader who's worked as a control engineer for 25 years. Said another: "As jobs at all levels, from McDonald's to college-educated knowledge-workers, are increasingly automated, there will be more unemployment." Other readers voiced similar concerns. /.../

John Dulchinos wrote:
Let me give you some background: In the last 15 years the United States has lost somewhere between 2 and 3 million jobs in manufacturing. And in that period of time, China has grown to surpass every other country now except the United States in total manufacturing capacity; in fact, in the next year or two, China is expected to surpass even the United States. Germany has actually grown its manufacturing population. Germany and Japan have the highest density of robots [number of industrial robots per 10,000 manufacturing workers]. And Germany has used robots to grow their manufacturing employee base, because they've been able to be competitive and bring manufacturing plants back to Germany. With that comes not only the manufacturing jobs but all the other indirect jobs as well.

So do robots take jobs away? I'm asked that question many times. I would draw some comparisons to other industries. In 1900, ...


I have a problem with the self-checkout, though, that I might not have when it comes to automating other jobs such as the fruit-picking and such, where the economics of it make it nearly impossible to actually pay people what their labour is worth.  The problem with the self-check-out is the same as the problem with fast food restaurants.  You're expected, as the customer, to bus your own tables, and run your own items through the checkout.  It's like, really?  I'M paying YOU in order to do the work you used to do for me?  And it's really galling when it's at the premium supermarkets with inflated prices. 

It's bad enough that they got rid of employees who used to bag your groceries for you instead of you scrambling to do it on time for the next person to be rung through the cash.  Again, I'M paying the company so that they can put me to work on their assembly line, at their speed?


Michelle, you can make the same comment about a huge number of unskilled jobs.  Cashiers, bank tellers, and so forth are all jobs that are going the way of the dinosaur.


I agree with Michelle. Because all of a sudden we are donating our own time and labour. And for whose benefit? Who are the ones saving money when we bag our own groceries and bus our own tables? Are we realizing any savings on food or services when we contribute to someone else's job loss? And what about society in general with fewer taxes being paid and loss of wages/money circulating in the economy? Capitalists don't really care about that, and neither do their bought and paid-for governments whose jobs they are to shrink government in making everyone more reliant on market ideology.

And what alternative jobs are created as a result? I think this is a real downside to automation. The capitalists have no problems realizing profits with automation. I think this is an inherent contradition within capitalism in general. They are always too slow to replace the job opportunities which are eliminated by tech progress. The luddites were right in protesting their job losses and sudden impoverishment imo. It's a natural reaction. Workers need input. We require compensation for the "harsh market forces" eliminating jobs replaced with lower paid work and even fewer jobs as a result.


Fidel, it's not a question of whether or not you like what's happening.  It's a given.


No I don't like what's happening, and I suppose that automation is inevitable. I just donated about 90 hours of my time to a group of high school students building a robot that shoots basketballs at a hoop. I understand that automation has long been a part of our society and will continue to be. And I think that democracy has a role to play in the direction our future economies and health care etc take us. Democratic decision making will be more important than ever if we are to survive the next century or two.


"There’s no need for security, or RoboCops for that matter, at the city’s newest parking garage downtown.

In fact, Daryl Simpson, vice-president of marketing for Bosa Development, says owners don’t need to lock their vehicles once they’ve entered the robotic parking garage at Jameson House, a modernist, luxury condo building located at 838 West Hastings St."

Isn't that a cruder version of what was in the movie I-Robot?


Yes, crude by comparison. What a waste of resources imo. Automated car parking garages can't be running on any microsoft OS, that's for sure. 

[url=The"> Rise of the Killer Drones: How America Goes to War in Secret[/url] (Or technical fuck-ups from 7500 miles away.)

Washington using hunter-killer drones, renditions, torture,  and "kill lists" to bring "human rights" to the world. 

Is semi-autonomous Gladio ethical?


Just re-reading a few posts and the thread title, lol, but it occurs to me that robot ethics would of course have to be programmed, at least initially, by us, and more specifically, the military or police agencies. We're all doomed.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

macktheknife wrote:

Just re-reading a few posts and the thread title, lol, but it occurs to me that robot ethics would of course have to be programmed, at least initially, by us, and more specifically, the military or police agencies. We're all doomed.


The kids in town here have constructed working robots for the local police and fire services. It's amazing what kids and their mentors can put together in a high school machine shop. 

The military is another issue altogether. They receive federal funding and serious money. Killer drones/UAV's are highly unethical imo.


Timebandit wrote:

Robotics engineer in OP featured here:

Thanks, I actually remembered watching that at some point before, but it was nice and scary to watch it again.

One of the worst things about a democratic country, from the perspective of a democratic countries' military generals I would imagine, is public dissent towards a war that can effect a political reversal. Fortunately for them, I have noticed, public dissent seems to largely be directly proportional to our own soldier casualty rate. These robots will all but eliminate our casualty rate, and the few "hippies" still protesting wars will be shout down by the "patriotic majority".

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

Yes, the body count certainly has a proportional effect on support for a war effort. I think media has changed that for us.

What I find interesting about ethics and killer robots, though, is the development of autonomy.  Dr Arkin is trying to develop a method of programming ethical decision-making now because there is less and less and less direct human control over robotic systems, especially in terms of military robotics.  The scary part is that the AI for ethical decision-making, which tends to be highly situational and complex, is simply not there yet.  But automated systems will be used before Arkin's problem is solved.

kropotkin1951 kropotkin1951's picture

How hard can it be?  Seems that they just need good enough software to determine age and gender.  Add in some parameters about how certain the software has to be before it rules on those factors and the job is done. Since all males of military age are considered combatants then they can all be targets based on ethical robotic decisions.



Timebandit Timebandit's picture

But the visual cues we use for child/adult as well as combatant/non-combatant are actually more complex than you would think.  Yes, easy for us - but for a robot?  Not so much.  Watch the video - this is addressed in, IIRC, act 3.


"One of the installations is being established in Ethiopia, a U.S. ally in the fight against al-Shabab, the Somali militant group that controls much of that country."

Ethiopia. Isn't that the country that has passed laws calling for 15 years in prison for using Tor or Skype? Oh, U.S., isn't it a crazy coincidence so many of your allies are brutal dictatorships?


U.S. assembling secret drone bases in Africa, Arabian Peninsula, officials say 2011

The Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen, U.S. officials said.

What I want to know is, how do they know who is al-Qaeda? How do they know they are not murdering ordinary people and their collaterally damaged family and friends?

Are they recovering authentic "Al-Qa'eda" membership cards from corpses after the dirty work is finished? WTF?



That's true. Why are Yemeni Qa'eda desperately poor citizens rebelling against an oppressive US-backed regime? 

Looking to avoid USA's kill list? Add your name and email address to the [url=]Do Not Kill Registry[/url].

What the?


Well to get back to the spirit of the thread, ethics for killer robots, if there is killer robots there are no ethics.

Governments will determine the ethics. We're all fucked. Say hello to a robot telling you to "vacate the area under penalty of law".


macktheknife wrote:
Governments will determine the ethics. We're all fucked. Say hello to a robot telling you to "vacate the area under penalty of law".

That is very pessimistic. Brings me down a little even.

However, as the sci-fi enthusiast that I am I must see hope for the future. I think it's in my jeans or something. It will be nothing new for everyday people of the future. Collectively we have battled against "the empire" for centuries. I can't see common men and women ever giving up the battle. People, I think, possess an indomitable will to survive what they thrown at us. I, for one, am very proud of the vast majority of people who came before us. And we are made of some pretty good stuff as a direct result. We outnumber the bad apples by some large number and always will. 

The Terminator, 1980 wrote:
Kyle Reese said, "Come with me if you want to live."

Their greatest hope is our worst nightmare. The opposite is true also.

radiorahim radiorahim's picture

The Software Freedom Law Centre's Eben Moglen argues that today's smartphones are in fact robots that spy on us in the service of governments and corporations.   

"Those of us of my generation who were born in the middle of the 20th century, we grew up thinking about freedom and technology under the influence of the science fiction of the 1960s. In that science fiction, visionaries perceived that in the middle of the first quarter of the 21st century, we’d be living contemporarily with robots.

They were correct. We do. They don’t have hands and feet. They don’t carry drinks. They don’t push vacuum cleaners.  (Although sometimes they are vacuum cleaners.)

Most of the time we’re the bodies. We’re the hands and feet. We carry them everywhere we go. They see everything, they’re aware of our position, our relationship to other human beings and other robots, they mediate an information stream about us, which allows other people to predict and know our conduct and intentions and capabilities better than we can predict them ourselves. "

Moglen says that we need to retrofit our smartphones so that they serve us instead of our corporate/government overlords.

Eben Moglen:  Time To Apply the First Law of Robotics To Our Smartphones



I think so, too. Observe how the US Feds were able to track Pablo Escobar on his travels around the world.

And then we were told that bin Laden and Al Qa'eda organized themselves by the same methods and ultimately using the public switched telephone network similarly. They can track people down ... if they really want to. 

They aren't tapping phones like J Edgar Hoover or the STASI once did. No spooky guys out on the telphone pedestal patching into peoples conversations anymore. The STASI never dreamed of possessing the technical capabilities for spying on the lives of others as Western shadow governments have today. 

A scene from the Hollywood movie Dark Knight, Too Much Power. The NSA, CIA and their NATO friends have had too much power for a long time.

radiorahim radiorahim's picture

This Op-Ed piece appeared in the New York Times on July 13th "That's No Phone.  That's My Tracker".

There's also this interesting summary on the IEEE Spectrum blog "Is Your Cell Phone Snitching on You?"

By the way, not all flying drones are bad.    There's a project from a group called "Open Relief" and they're building a free software based drone to be used in disaster relief operations.    I understand it runs on the "Raspberry Pi" computer.

Robots can be good or bad.   It just depends on who's interests are being served.



I don't want to start a new thread but wanted to share this:

“Our device isn’t meant to make employees more efficient,” he said. “It’s meant to completely obviate them.”



The 22-year-old was part of a team that was setting up the stationary robot when it grabbed and crushed him against a metal plate, Hillwig said.

He said initial conclusions indicate that human error was to blame, rather than a problem with the robot, which can be programmed to perform various tasks in the assembly process. He said it normally operates within a confined area at the plant, grabbing auto parts and manipulating them.

Another contractor was present when the incident occurred, but was not harmed, Hillwig said. He declined to give any more details about the case, citing an ongoing investigation.

German news agency DPA reported that prosecutors were considering whether to bring charges, and if so, against whom.