Would you invent, develop, fund and deliver a high-precision weaponized drone that can invade indoor spaces – one with the technical capability to kill humans with advanced AI algorithms? Most people especially in the western world, would most likely answer this question with a firm “no”. It is however that same group of people, that represent a majority from all age groups, all genders and backgrounds, that would not only agree on the need for a national defence institution but would also trust this institution more than others.
These institutions for the most part, understand that the application of force should only be used as ultima ratio. It is an established consensus amongst militaries worldwide on the acceptable use of force to be exercised as a last resort. Weapons are as a result, merely the tactically selected tool that allows soldiers to fulfil an inevitable and necessary mission. It would therefore be safe to assume that the aforementioned majority group also trusts their military to use weapons as ultima ratio. A high-precision weaponized drone that can invade indoor spaces and has the technical capability to kill, could thereby serve as the perfect tactical tool for soldiers in the first man position.
The first man problem is as old as humankind and describes the inevitable risk of getting injured or killed as the first man that enters unexplored spaces; rooms, corridors, staircases during an operation. The use of this technology would thus not only remove the risk endured by the first man – essentially protecting his/her life – but would also assist in more precise targeting by taking a human out of a high intensity, complex scenario which would enable better, clearer decision making. This subsequently removes the need for bomb and rocket deployment to ‘safely’ clear an area that risks causing collateral damage with long term repercussions. Leaving us with the potential to elevate the ethical standard of military operations through the application and use of controversial technology – this is where it becomes interestingly complicated.
Most people would agree with Charles H. Duell’s statement that “Everything That Can be Invented Has Been Invented”. From toilet brushes, to cars and weapons. Everything that can be invented has been invented. Following this logic, the question is not “whether or not a high-precision weaponized drone that can invade indoor spaces, with the technical capability to kill humans with advanced AI algorithms will be developed?” It is a question of “by whom?”. Leaving the potential of improving, even if only slightly the conditions of war, to the ‘whom’.
“By whom?” becomes the defining question of future accessibility of this technology, and the rules of engagement it will be governed by. This may increase or decrease the risk of systematic misuse from organisations that might have a history of non-compliance, with the rules of engagement. “By whom?” will also become the determinant of measures associated with and put in place alongside the technology, to prevent rough agents acting outside of the rules of engagement. The rough agent risk increases without means of accountability and control, properly governed within the organization or by an independent trustworthy third-party. Further shedding light on the urgency and need to talk about defence and its current developments, to answer the “by whom?”.
I believe that the significance and importance of this question should not be left answered by pure coincidence. To answer carefully and thoughtfully, we must stop avoiding the question. Encouraging people from and outside of the industry to talk more about Defence. Attracting both the best technical but also the best ethical talent to work on the frontlines of the defence industry of tomorrow – by re-building the trust that has been lost by the Defence Companies of today. For this, transparency, accountability and control are key to counter both the systematic but also the rough agent risk. All of which can be implemented in modern, ethically conscious companies and strengthened by technical means. But none of this can happen if we simply label things evil. We must start acting on them, taking practises out of the shadows to operate in the public space as far as we are able to, to redefine the rules of the game.
The potential of doing this is not limited to the defence industry. It is so much more. It lives everywhere that ethically questionable products, services and practises exist; and can be elevated by accepting the state of the world and deploying the best, most talented individuals to offer other alternatives. This is how we can reach new markets, new customers through the improvement of the world’s ethical standard – one industry at a time. Starting with a Killer Drone, ending with World Peace!
Dr Max Werner. Founder & CEO.