Why do drone pilots wear a uniform?

Armed Drones - Questions and Answers

A good question. Because that's not at all clear. So, interestingly enough, many in these debates assume that armed drones are morally harmless, whereas autonomous weapon systems are morally and legally outlawed. But when you look at the arguments, it's not always clear why that should be the case. In fact, the armed drones, as we are now discussing them for the Bundeswehr, represent a step in something that some scientists from political science do Revolution in Military Technology call, i.e. a revolution in military technology towards more robotic forms, increasing automation and increasing robotization.

What in itself is not yet reprehensible?

Koch: Even with autonomous weapon systems, it is not all autonomy that should be outlawed under international law, but rather the autonomous decision-making function, so to speak, as to whether or not a weapon will have an effect. The fact that today, for example, armed drones can take off and land automatically or autonomously, depending on how the terms are defined, on an aircraft carrier with a very limited landing area is not what is now being debated when it comes to the question of autonomous weapon systems. The whole technological development is pushing towards more and more automation or "autonomization". In this respect, the armed drones that we are now discussing, these MALE drones, are only an intermediate stage. The dynamic is definitely there.

That does not yet speak against autonomous weapons.

Koch: Yes, of course it could be that in 20 years we will sit there and discuss autonomous weapon systems in a similar way to what we do today about armed drones. When we say: remote control still costs us too much time. An autonomous system could react much faster in a relatively standardized situation. In this respect, the time argument that is used today in favor of drones would also speak in favor of autonomous weapon systems. Also with regard to the question of protection: If it turns out that drone pilots, for which there already seem to be some indicators, are more frequently affected by post-traumatic stress disorder, then that would possibly be an argument for handing over certain standardized cases to robotics. So it's not so clear why you want to be ostracized.

What ultimately leads to the decision to outlaw autonomous weapons?

Koch: The argument that is usually put forward is that machines shouldn't make the difference between life and death. But now we have to say that there is a somewhat unfortunate usage of language, because in the same sense as humans decide, machines never decide. To do this, they would need at least a sense of time, an orientation towards the future. This does not apply to robots as long as they do not have so-called strong AI. But I think the decisive argument - and I support the banning of autonomous weapon systems - is an argument based on risk ethics. It is simply very dangerous to produce and deploy such autonomous weapons systems. Because we don't know exactly what happens when such weapon systems meet, for example, whether there will be any switching overlays, whether there will be any cascade effects and the like. And you can't test that beforehand either. So the risks associated with these weapon systems are simply so high that they should be avoided.