Ron Arkin.  Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots (pp 29-36; 37-48; 62-67; 138-143).

Ron Arkin's book is a good example of how a robotics technologist would write about a question as weighty as lethality and technology. You have significant excerpts to read from this text, and so the questions index you into specific passages.

Reading questions: 

Chapter 3: Human Failings in the Battlefield pp  29-36

1 Part of the argument Arking presents regarding human shortcomings has to do with the detachment technology can provide (p.34).  Is this issue of human detachment relevant to the consideration of autonomous, lethal robots as well, or is this an incorrect comparison? Explain your answer.

Chapter 4: Related Philosophical Thought pp 37-48

1 There is an argument Arkin uses at time to dismiss certain considerations by explaining that those considerations do not apply just to autonomous robots in war, but to many sorts of technologies in war.  How should the fact that an issue is larger than a specific technological implementation color our consideration of its ethical implications?

2 At the end of Chapter 4, Arkin mentions and dismisses Asimov’s laws of robotics. Summarize his reasoning behind this dismissal, then reflect and respond to this issue yourself: is consideration of Asimov’s laws warranted; why or why not?

Section 6.2 Ethical Behavior (pp 62-67)

1 This section summarizes the formulaic/architectural side of Arkin’s implementation.  His view of this architecture seems couched in two assumptions: one, that a robot can perceptually bring in enough information to make good choices; and two, that a robot is deciding whether or not to take fairly discrete, atomic actions.  What happens to this architecture if machine perception continues to be a problem into the next decade, and if action is not atomic but a fluent of decisions on how to behave over time?


Section 10.3 Ethical Adaptor (pp 138-143)

1 Arkin presents the guilt variable and guilt action threshold concepts for his architecture in this section.  Do you believe that the mechanism introduced here by Arkin helps a robot to act more ethically?  Explain your response in detail, drawing on our other reading as applicable.

2 A bigger question: do the robots Arkin proposes help society (people, not robots) be more ethical or less ethical? Explain.