Saturday, March 29, 2008

Chivalry in the Age of Autonomous Weapons pt. 2

Chivalry in the Age of Autonomous Weapons
by Ryan Haecker

In the 21st century, man has empowered his tools to autonomously kill other men on his behalf. These weapons can operate independent of their human creators, while retaining the capacity to kill other men. In a very real sense, Man, the paragon of Animals, has created a species of “predators” where nature had failed to supply one. Just like animals, these automatons are thoughtless and ruthlessly efficient; the perfect digital servants of a triumphant civilization. By collectivizing, mechanizing, and digitalizing modern warfare we have developed the science and art of war to unprecedented efficiency. But our mastery of the clockwork of battle has dehumanized us in the process.With the ever increasing abstraction and artificiality of 21st century warfare, a new moral imperative will be required to render hospitable this increasingly inhuman battlefield. The Categorical Imperative demands that we show compassion to all human beings.Abstract mechanical processes must no longer dispense life and death to human beings. If we ever aspire to be a “Kingdom of Ends”, then chivalry must return to the digital battlefield.

The Romans were the first to realize that warfare was not merely a martial contest, but a contractual relationship. The Romans added the concept of “Just Cause” to Just War Theory by applying the legal understanding of contractual obligation to the relationship between nations. Cicero correctly noted that war could be said to be just only if it seeked to redress some grievance; such as the loss of goods or prestige(rebus repetitis). Because warfare must have some purposeful just cause, it will always be more than merely a martial contest. Warfare is a contractual relationship, both on the collective level of the state and the individual level of the soldier. The individual soldier fights for the redress of the collective grievance of the state as well as on an individual basis against individual opponents. In this way, warfare is, in every instance, a contractual relationship in which party A seeks to redress some grievance which party B will not allow. Because of this relationship, warfare can be understood in the symbolic abstract:

Combatant A brings a dispute to battle in order to redress some damage done to them by combatant B. While combatant B may not have the same combative means (weapons, skill, experience etc.) as A, combatant B affirms his acceptance of the contractual relationship by refusing to submit to A’s demands and instead taking up arms. Both combatants employ primary and secondary combative means to achieve victory in battle. The primary combative means are those abilities which are immediately available to a human combatant(intellect, willpower, strength etc.) without the use of tools or artificial implements. The secondary combative means are those means which are employed in addition to primary means, such as javelins and guided missiles, in order to afford the combatant an added artificial advantage:1. A require a redress of grievances from B: A makes demands on B2. B refuses demands of A, and chooses to enter into a combative contest with A3. A employs (primary means) X B employs (primary means) Y + (Secondary means) 4 + (Secondary means) 2 Assuming X=Y, this conflict is unfairly biased in favor of combatant A because A is employing twice the secondary means (ex: longer spears) as combatant B. However X and Y remain unknown whole numbers since human potential will and intellect are unquantifiable(for our example we will use a range of 1-10).

B recognizes his disadvantage in secondary means buy chooses to enter into the contest with the hope that (Y+2)>(X+4). because the primary means(X&Y) can be any whole number from 1-10, combatant B may have a fairly good chance of employing a greater total of primary and secondary means through which he defeats combatant A. Because the primary means in this example vary from 1-10, while A has merely a +2 advantage in secondary means, the primary human means become far more important. In this way human combatants can be said to influence battles inasfar as the artificial tools(secondary means) which they use are not disproportionately more powerful than the humans(primary means) which use them. conversely, combative relationships become inhuman to the degree to which the secondary artificial means are more powerful than the primary human means which direct them. In this way, we can establish linear relationship to symbolically represent the human-ness or inhuman-ness of combative relationships. Those methods of warfare which employ a greater proportion of secondary artificial means are to that degree inhuman, and those methods which employ a greater proportion of primary means are to that degree more human.Human war <-(greater proportion of primary means)-----(greater proportion of secondary means)-> Artificial warWhen man empowers his tools with the autonomy to kill other men, he alters the previously understood combative relationship in such a way as to make it dehumanizing. The aforementioned relationship had required 2 human combative parties to freely consent to the armed struggle in which both human combatants would act as autonomous combatants in themselves, employing dependent secondary means as merely extensions of their own autonomous will. When those secondary dependent means are granted a degree of autonomy from their human controllers, they usurp the status of combatants.

Although these secondary means are now autonomous, they still remain merely instrumental means because they cannot, like humans, willfully consent to do battle. These autonomously empowered instruments are mere automatons, without the rational choice to do otherwise than that for which they are designed. The combative relationship that now exists, between artificial means and human willful combatants changes from a true martial contest between actual combatants to a merely mechanical process by which man uses instruments as a means to destroy his fellow man. This process cannot be called 'battle' in the aforementioned sense because the one or more of the human actors has been removed from the combative relationship. With the usurpation of the combative role of humans by machines, this relationship becomes merely a mechanized process of destroying human lives. War then becomes an extension of industry and computer science rather than a true martial contest between nations.

As the science and art of war advances at an exponential pace(with the exponential advancement of technology[12]), the ability to of humans to influence battles, or the “human factor”, becomes increasingly diminished. In the 7th century BC, the Greeks developed a method of warfare in which individual citizen soldiers would be amassed in a densely packed mechanistic formation called the hoplite phalanx. By replacing the individual soldier with the collective weight of many soldiers working in tandem, the Greeks could gain a decisive edge in the arms race of antiquity. But this advance in the science of war proved to be a Faustian bargain: individual soldiers would no longer be allowed to freely choose which combative relationship they entered upon. With the fear of death in mind, soldiers would sacrifice their individual autonomy for the advantages of collective commanded warfare. The chivalry of Homer could not survive the hoplite revolution. As spears became longer and formations became tighter, individual men were reduced in importance until they became merely predictable mechanistic numerical values rather than decisive variables. All of an individual man's courage and dignity in battle could no longer carry the deciding weight because the variable primary human means of X would no longer outweigh the secondary means of X which could be in excess of +10, +100, and +1000. With the introduction of industry into warfare, individual courage could be gunned down with the swiftness of a rapid fire machine gun. These were the horrors of the Battle of Verdun and the Somme when men first encountered the the ruthless efficiency of inhuman warfare. Today, Guided missiles and Autonomous weapons have so far empowered secondary artificial means as to make immediate primary human means inconsequential. This increasing collectivization and mechanization of warfare will continue to abstract and artificialize warfare. As this process continues, the human element will be almost entirely extricated from warfare, leaving only digital inhuman warfare in it's place.


As the human element is continually replaced by the digital element, the destinies of individual soldiers will be increasingly determined by abstract mechanical processes. When the autonomy of an individual soldier is subsumed by mechanical warfare and the digital element man's will is subsumed within the workings of an inalterable mechanistic process. This process, whether it be the hoplite phalanx or the hyper warfare of the digital age, denies man the autonomy of action that he would have had otherwise. This creates a condition in which men are treated merely as means and not as human ends in themselves. Because humans treat themselves as ends, the Categorical imperative requires that we treat our neighbors as ends in themselves and not merely as the means of our own subjective ends[11]. Less ethical warfare is then that method of warfare wherein men are treated merely as means. As warfare becomes more artificial and collectivized, men lose their autonomy of action. This creates a condition in which man has less of an ability to will himself towards his own subjective ends. In contrast, More ethical warfare is that method of warfare in which man is liberated from artificial mechanisms of the collective. It is that method of warfare in which man's immediate primary means of intellect, will, and martial valor are proportionately more important than the merely artificial secondary means. In this way we can establish a linear opposition between more and less perfect methods of warfare.


Human/Individual/Primary means Inhuman/ Collective/ Secondary Means

If we abstract this linear opposition towards its most ethical form ad infitum, we can imagine a most perfect, more chivalrous method of warfare. Chivalry as we will use the word, is the abstract form of the most perfectly ethical form of warfare. All methods of warfare are ethical insofar as they approach in likeness the form of Chivalry. Chivalry can be understood in Kantian terms as that method of warfare in which man is treated to the greatest degree as an end in himself and not merely as a means to some further subjective end. Chivalry is that method of warfare in which man in the arbiter of his own desitny. It is that method in which man is free from the restraints of the abstract mechanistic collective. In chivalry, individual combat is superior to collective combat and primary means are superior to secondary means. Chivalry is respect for human war, and disregard for the tactical advantages of inhuman war.

The Hindu Epic the Mahabharata tells the story of the 18 day Kurukshetra War in which all of India is divided between the sibling clans of the Pandavas and the Kauravas[14]. During the battle, both sides agree to abide by the rules of Dharmayuddha(righteous warfare). Included within these rules are two pertaining to correct method of warfare:

Multiple warriors may not attack a single warrior.
Two warriors may "duel," or engage in prolonged personal combat, only if they carry the same weapons and they are on the same mount (no mount, a horse, an elephant, or a chariot).


In the 21th century, the demands of necessity have caused the rules of righteous warfare to be discarded. The use of UAV's(unmanned aerial vehicles) and NCW(network centric warfare) to destroy other men represents the further abstractions and artificialization of warfare. This process began in the 7th century BC and it has continued at an exponentially accelerating rate. The ever increasing power of mans tools will in the future offer man further opportunities to artificialize and abstract warfare. If we are to be a 'Kingdom of Ends' we have a moral imperative to match in our conduct what our epic poems teach us about humane and righteous warfare. We have a moral obligation to rectify the ethical deficiency began when Hellenic warfare replaced Homeric.
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11. Immanuel Kant, the Metaphysics of Morals p.36 http://www.philosophypages.com/hy/5i.htm

12. Ray Kurzweil, the Singularity is Near p.64 http://arstechnica.com/articles/paedia/cpu/moore.ars/

13. Randy J. Blakenship, Could he be President? 2004 p.59614. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurukshetra_war

1 comment:

John said...

One effect of the automation of warfare is that the marginal cost of each life increases as casualties become rarer. This means t hat contextually one casualty in modern war in the industrial world is worth 100 in the recent past. If you don't believe the economics of modern war, compare the number of deaths in WWI Russia before the revolution began and how much public opinion shifted against the Iraq war with each new casualty milestone.