Technology Ethics in Defence and Security
Lessons from the past
You don’t have to look hard to find historic examples of defence technology that have had a negative impact on global stability. If nuclear weapons had not been invented at all, the lives of thousands of Japanese civilians might have been spared, and the Cold War would probably never have happened. However, there is a possible world in which Nazi Germany was the first to assemble a nuclear armoury; or another in which unending war in the Pacific caused greater suffering than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Could it be that the devastating real-world outcome was actually the ‘least worst’ of the most likely scenarios? As the debate continues to rage among philosophers and historians almost 80 years later, it is clear we will never have definitive answers to these questions – and yet the conversation remains as vital as ever. We cannot change history, but we can influence the future. Today, we as innovators must pause to consider how our legacy will be remembered another 80 years from now. The question we must continually ask ourselves while pursuing technological advances is: just because we can, should we?
The ethics of emerging technologies
There has always been a tension in defence between taking sufficient time to consider the ethical implications of new technologies, and deploying their capabilities quickly and decisively enough to maintain the advantage over adversaries. This tension is growing in the 21st century as technology advances at an ever-increasing rate; becoming more powerful, diverse, and accessible. Consequently, there is a higher risk of knee jerk decision-making in response to emerging threats. To counteract this, it is vital to maintain an up-to-date understanding of emerging technologies and their potential ethical pitfalls. What follows in this article is by no means an exhaustive list, but a sample of today’s defence technologies and a brief overview of the ethical considerations surrounding them.
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