Ethics and Information Technology 15 (2):87-98 (2013)

Authors
Mark Coeckelbergh
University of Vienna
Abstract
Ethical reflection on drone fighting suggests that this practice does not only create physical distance, but also moral distance: far removed from one’s opponent, it becomes easier to kill. This paper discusses this thesis, frames it as a moral-epistemological problem, and explores the role of information technology in bridging and creating distance. Inspired by a broad range of conceptual and empirical resources including ethics of robotics, psychology, phenomenology, and media reports, it is first argued that drone fighting, like other long-range fighting, creates epistemic and moral distance in so far as ‘screenfighting’ implies the disappearance of the vulnerable face and body of the opponent and thus removes moral-psychological barriers to killing. However, the paper also shows that this influence is at least weakened by current surveillance technologies, which make possible a kind of ‘empathic bridging’ by which the fighter’s opponent on the ground is re-humanized, re-faced, and re-embodied. This ‘mutation’ or unintended ‘hacking’ of the practice is a problem for drone pilots and for those who order them to kill, but revealing its moral-epistemic possibilities opens up new avenues for imagining morally better ways of technology-mediated fighting
Keywords Military robotics  Drones  Ethics  Distance  Information technology  Phenomenology
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DOI 10.1007/s10676-013-9313-6
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References found in this work BETA

Totality and Infinity.Emmanuel Levinas - 1961/1969 - Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.
Killer Robots.Robert Sparrow - 2007 - Journal of Applied Philosophy 24 (1):62–77.

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Citations of this work BETA

The Tragedy of the Master: Automation, Vulnerability, and Distance.Mark Coeckelbergh - 2015 - Ethics and Information Technology 17 (3):219-229.
Drones and the Martial Virtue Courage.Jesse Kirkpatrick - 2015 - Journal of Military Ethics 14 (3-4):202-219.
Drone Warfare and the Limits of Sacrifice.Bianca Baggiarini - 2015 - Journal of International Political Theory 11 (1):128-144.

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