The Ethics of Cyberwarfare
The push of a button was never considered a violent act until the 20th century. Cold War films like Dr. Strangelove turned the "Doomsday" button--the launch of nuclear missiles which assured mutual self-destruction between East and West--into a cultural icon.
In recent years, with the boom of video games, war is no longer about the push of a single button, but rather now conjures up images of playing a computer game. In the resurrected series Arrested Development, the smothered son Buster enlists in the military to escape his overbearing mother; someone as helpless as him finds success playing what he believes to be is a video game. To his horror, he eventually learns that he's actually commanding drones.
As this satire illustrates, our drones--all technology--are only as smart and as ethical as those controlling it.
Peter Singer, the director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence and a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy program, spoke to Big Think about shifting war technologies and ethical issues.
As Singer explains, how we wage war continues to advance in ways that may one day bring to life science fiction:
There’s been an enormous amount of changing forces on warfare in the twenty-first century. And they range from new actors in war like private contractors, the black waters of the world to the growth of warlord and child soldier groups to technological shifts. The introduction of robotics to cyber. And one of the interesting things that ties these together is how not only the who of war is being expanded but also the where and the when. So one of the things that links, for example, drones and robotics with cyber weapons is that you’re seeing a shift in both the geographic location of the human role. Humans are still involved. We’re not in the world of the Terminator. Humans are still involved but there’s been a geographic shift where the operation can be happening in Pakistan but the person flying the plane might be back in Nevada 7,000 miles away.
But new tricks bring up age-old debates. Singer touches on Stuxnet, a computer virus that attacked Iran's nuclear centrifuge seemingly undetected. A cyberweapon seems less violent, of course, than traditional forms of warfare. But even cyberwarfare is not free from ethical scrutiny, as Singer points:
One of the next steps in this both with the physical side of robotics and the software side of cyber is a shift in that human role – not just geographically but chronologically where the humans are still making decisions but they’re sending the weapon out in the world to then make its own decisions as it plays out there. In robotics we think about this as autonomy. With Stuxnet it was a weapon. It was a weapon like anything else in history, you know, a stone, a drone – it caused physical damage...
On one hand we can say this may have been the first ethical weapons ever developed. Again whether we’re talking about the robots or Stuxnet, they can be programmed to do things that we would describe as potentially ethical. So Stuxnet could only cause harm to its intended target. Yet popped up in 25,000 computers around the world but it could only harm the ones with this particular setup, this particular geographic location of doing nuclear research. In fact, even if you had nuclear centrifuges in your basement, it still wouldn’t harm them. It could only hit those Iranian ones. Wow, that’s great but as the person who discovered it so to speak put it, “It’s like opening Pandora’s box.” And not everyone is going to program it that way with ethics in mind.
For Singer's complete interview, watch the video.
Peter Singer on the ethics of how drones are like viruses and vice-versa.
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Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In their findings the authors state:
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
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