As Guilty as a Gun

In ancient Greece, it was common to have religious festivities frequently. During such events, the offering of an ox was an important moment. The day after the offering, however, a prosecution would be started, to find the one guilty of murdering the ox. First, the farmer would be interrogated. He would refer the investigators to the stable maids. In turn, the table maids would say that the ox was brought to the butcher. In the end, the butcher would respond that it was the knife he used that killed the ox. Of course, the knife can’t defend itself. So ultimately, the knife would be found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by drowning it in a river. After thousands of years we know better. Or do we?

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Recently, autonomous weapons became the center of debates. These weapons are programmed to be able to eliminate threats without human operation of the weapon system. This protects human lives, as operators are no longer needed on the spot. The idea of a machine that can judge over life and death on its own is terrifying for many. That’s why a system that requires human intervention has been issued; semi-autonomous weapon systems.

Semi-autonomous weapons do need human authorization to function (read ‘to kill’). Their advantage is that they don’t have to be operated from the inside. A good example of such a technology is the drone. It can be controlled from miles away, but won’t start shooting at targets until the human operator of the drone would initiate it. This gives more space to ethical decision making during the process, creating more consciousness of whether or not to kill. The operator can take environmental circumstances into account that the autonomous weapon system cant. The probability of innocent deaths for example.

So far the advantages of robotic killing machines. What is happening due to automatizing weapon systems, is that the act of ending another human’s life is becoming easier. No longer do we need to kill with our bare hands, man to man. No longer do we even have to pull a trigger, all it takes is a button. Of course, current air bombers also kill by the use of a button, but now, the person that has to push that certain button isn’t even there! He is comfortably sitting somewhere miles away of the attack. To him, the only thing that happened is the elimination of a couple of pixels on his screen. This will inevitably lead to an increase of civilian casualties. We are losing the human touch.  

Proof is the leaked military footage of a helicopter attack on rebels from 2010. During the video it appears as if the soldiers enjoy handling the helicopter’s machine gun as if they were playing a video game, instead of what they were really doing; Murdering a group of human beings in cold blood. These so called rebels turned out to be 8 war photographers, who were armed with nothing else but their photo cameras.

To make it even worse, people claim to feel that they didn’t actually kill those targets during a drone strike. The drone did. This puts us back in the time of the ancient Greeks! Autonomous weapons are still programmed by humans, semi-autonomous weapons are controlled by humans, just like planes and tanks are controlled by a human. So cut the bad the excuses and face it. One can never blame a murder on the weapon. After all, it is a mere tool to establish what the mind wants to do. In the end, weapons don’t kill people, people kill people.