Shannon Vallor, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Santa Clara University in California, where she teaches the philosophy of science and technology as well as engineering ethics. Her primary research project concerns the impact of emerging technologies on the cultivation of moral and intellectual virtues, and her research has been published in journals such as Ethics and Information Technology, Philosophy of Technology and Techne, as well as in Springer's upcoming edited collection, Ethics of Information Warfare. She is currently working on a book, 21st Century Virtue: An Ethical Framework For Living Well With Emerging Technologies. Professor Vallor is a member of the Executive Board of the international Society for Philosophy and Technology, a Scholar of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and a steering member of SCU's Center for Science, Technology and Society.
The Future of Military Virtue: Autonomous Systems and the Moral Deskilling of the Military
Autonomous systems, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), anti-munitions systems, armed robots, cyber attack and cyber defence systems, are projected to become the centrepiece of 21st century military and counter-terrorism operations. This trend challenges legal experts, policymakers and military ethicists to make sense of these developments within existing normative frameworks of international law and just war theory. This paper highlights a different yet equally profound ethical challenge: understanding how this trend may lead to a moral deskilling of the military profession, potentially destabilizing traditional norms of military virtue and their power to motivate moral restraint in the conduct of war. Employing the normative framework of virtue ethics, I argue that professional ideals of military virtue such as courage, integrity, and honour help to distinguish legitimate uses of military force from amoral, criminal or mercenary violence, while also preserving the minimal sense of moral community needed to secure a meaningful peace in war’s aftermath. Yet the cultivation of these virtues in a human being presupposes repeated practice of the skills of moral analysis, deliberation and action, especially in the ethical use of force. As with the historical deskilling of other professions, such practices could be made redundant by autonomous or semi-autonomous machines, with a resulting devaluation and/or loss of the skills and virtues they facilitate. This paper explores the circumstances under which this redundancy could result in a new ‘moral deskilling’ of the military profession, a risk that remains significant even with a commitment to ‘human on the loop’ protocols. I conclude by summarizing the potentially deleterious consequences of such an outcome, and reflecting on possible strategies for its prevention.