Keep Droning On

The abilities of robots are improving everyday. From video drones flown by civilians, to war machines that can engage and attack humans automatically, there are ethical questions behind any machine that can do what a human can’t do alone.

An article in The Atlantic explained that robots are used for national security to complete dull, dirty and/or dangerous jobs. Whether for surveillance or disassembling bombs, robots always act with “dispassion”.  Even in the heat of war, a robot cannot become fatigued, hungry, angry or distracted, and will perform the same regardless of conditions that may be incredibly stressful to humans.

However, robots are rarely completely self automated, and can generally at least be overridden by humans.  However, if a robot has information that human can’t see, such as night vision, who should make the decision?  If a robot can identify a civilian is in danger, but a human operator authorizes an attack anyway, should the robot be able to veto the command, or should it be required to follow the human instruction.

Ethically, the robot would be doing right by saving a human life, but giving a  robot the ability to override humans commands may be a slippery slope that movies like I, Robot warn of. If robots aren’t coded to always obey human operators, the potential for them to act uncontrollably is far more likely.

While automation encourages dispassion and therefor strong ethics, these ethics are still programmed by the robots creator, and an be influenced by the programmer or whoever funds the project. Two robots of the same function could make different decisions if one is  programmed by a computer scientist in Japan and the other is built by the U.S. Navy. Both may make ethical decisions in their home countries, but if they were used in a foreign place their ethics may not match that society’s.

This is currently happening in the United States as Native American’s are fighting to protect their lands and water from an oil pipeline.  There is a standoff of protests between police and protestors in Standing Rock that has been occurring for over six months.  Protestors have been tear gassed, attacked and shot with rubber bullets, so some are using video drones to document what they believe to be unfair treatment.

The drones should not cause any ethical issues because they are simply recording the actions of police, but the drones have been attacked with rocks and even shot at by police officers. Although the surveillance simply encourages transparency from the government and does not pose a threat to officers, these public officials seem to believe their privacy is necessary.

If they were private residents on their own property, I would completely understand shooting down the drones, but as working employees of the government, it only seems as if they have something unethical to hide.

**Feature image provided by Tomwsulcer under CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain


Mild Cyberterrorism

Cyberterrorism: “The politically motivated use of computers and information technology to cause severe disruption or widespread fear.”

As the world shifts further an further into the technological revolution,  society has become increasingly vulnerable to attacks via the internet.  Information can be stolen, communication can be disrupted, and fear, injury, or even death can be spread.  Politically motivated, these attacks can force the hand of governments, businesses, or individuals.

But what about political motivated cyber attacks that don’t cause danger or significant monetary losses?  Hactivism obstructs normal computer activity to peacefully inspire social change.  Similar to a physical sit-in, Hactivism may temporarily change the information on a website, or shut it down to spread a message.

Hactivists however, are rarely treated like peaceful protestors, but instead can be prosecuted for their online activism. In 2010, PayPal, VISA, and Mastercard refused to process donations to Wikileaks, so the group Anonymous organized over 6,000 people to overload their servers using a DDoS attack.  Sixteen members of Anonymous were then arrested and charged with conspiracy and “intentional damage to a protected computer.”

A DDoS attack is simply giving a website so many requests that it is overwhelmed and temporarily cannot function, so how can it be treated differently than a physical sit-in protest?  Both effectively prevent the use of their target, whether it be a restaurant or a website, and while both can cause small financial consequences, neither causes permanent damages.  Regardless, both are performed in public spaces, and are peaceful forms of protest that we should encourage here in the land of the free.

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) was designed to prosecute hackers to the level of crime committed, and while many of the punishments seems unnecessary, sometimes Hactivists push the line of activism and crime.

In 2011, Anonymous and Lulzsec hacked the Stratford Global Intelligence Services databases and published the credit card information, addresses and passwords of their top clients.  They then used the information to donate small amounts of money to different charities.  However, their Robin Hood scheme landed Jeremy Hammond in prison for 10 years.  While this was much lower than the life-sentence he was threatened with, it is still one of the biggest punishments a hacker has received in American history.

Hammond still believed his work was activism though, telling the Associated Press in  2014 that “From the start, I always wanted to target government websites, but also police and corporations that profit off government contracts.”

Whether the clients at Stratford deserved to be robbed or not, Hammond understood he was breaking the law, and even plead guilty for his charges.  While the U.S. is dealing with internal issues like this, they also have to worry about international attacks. In 2011, the Pentagon decided that “computer sabotage coming from another country can constitute an act of war.”

While it is important that America can respond to such attacks, what if the attack was not from another country, but just an Israeli teenager in his bedroom? Back in 1999, the BBC reported that a 14 year old boy named Nir Zigdon created a virus which successfully destroyed because “it contained lies about the United States and Israel and propaganda against Jews.”

While this shows a true activist spirit, many questions must be asked about the punishments the U.S. would enforce if a foreign teenager hacks because a future President posts anti-muslim propaganda?  I guess we will have to wait and find out.



** Featured image created and owned by Snnysrma under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.