A Philosopher's Blog

Drone Ethics is Easy

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on May 16, 2014
English: AR Drone part

English: AR Drone part (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When a new technology emerges it is not uncommon for people to claim that the technology is outpacing ethics and law. Because of the nature of law (at least in countries like the United States) it is very easy for technology to outpace the law. However, it is rather difficult for technology to truly outpace ethics.

One reason for this is that any adequate ethical theory (that is, a theory that meets the basic requirements such as possessing prescriptively, consistency, coherence and so on) will have the quality of expandability. That is, the theory can be applied to what is new, be that technology, circumstances or something else. An ethical (or moral) theory that lacks the capacity of expandability would, obviously enough, become useless immediately and thus would not be much of a theory.

It is, however, worth considering the possibility that a new technology could “break” an ethical theory by being such that the theory could not expand to cover the technology. However, this would show that the theory was inadequate rather than showing that the technology outpaced ethics.

Another reason that technology would have a hard time outpacing ethics is that an ethical argument by analogy can be applied to a new technology. That is, if the technology is like something that already exists and has been discussed in the context of ethics, the ethical discussion of the pre-existing thing can be applied to the new technology. This is, obviously enough, analogous to using ethical analogies to apply ethics to different specific situations (such as a specific act of cheating in a relationship).

Naturally, if a new technology is absolutely unlike anything else in human experience (even fiction), then the method of analogy would fail absolutely. However, it seems somewhat unlikely that such a technology could emerge. But, I like science fiction (and fantasy) and hence I am willing to entertain the possibility of that which is absolutely new. However, it would still seem that ethics could handle it—but perhaps something absolutely new would break all existing ethical theories, showing that they are all inadequate.

While a single example does not provide much in the way of proof, it can be used to illustrate. As such, I will use the matter of “personal” drones to illustrate how ethics is not outpaced by technology.

While remote controlled and automated devices have been around a long time, the expansion of technology has created what some might regard as something new for ethics: drones, driverless cars, and so on. However, drone ethics is easy. By this I do not mean that ethics is easy, it is just that applying ethics to new technology (such as drones) is not as hard as some might claim. Naturally, actually doing ethics is itself quite hard—but this applies to very old problems (the ethics of war) and very “new” problems (the ethics of killer robots in war).

Getting back to the example, a personal drone is the sort of drone that a typical civilian can own and operate—they tend to be much smaller, lower priced and easier to use relative to government drones. In many ways, these drones are slightly advanced versions of the remote control planes that are regarded as expensive toys. The drones of this sort that seem to most concern people are those that have cameras and can hover—perhaps outside a bedroom window.

Two of the areas of concern regarding such drones are safety and privacy. In terms of safety, the worry is that drones can collide with people (or other vehicles, such as manned aircraft) and injure them. Ethically, this falls under doing harm to people, be it with a knife, gun or drone. While a flying drone flies about, the ethics that have been used to handle flying model aircraft, cars, etc. can easily be applied here. So, this aspect of drones has hardly outpaced ethics.

Privacy can also be handled. Simplifying things for the sake of a brief discussion, drones essentially allow a person to (potentially) violate privacy in the usual two “visual” modes. One is to intrude into private property to violate a person’s privacy. In the case of the “old” way, a person can put a ladder against a person’s house and climb up to peek under the window shade and into the person’s bedroom or bathroom. In the “new” way, a person can fly a drone up to the window and peek in using a camera. While the person is not physically present in the case of the drone, his “agent” is present and is trespassing. Whether a person is using a ladder or a drone to gain access to the window does not change the ethics of the situation in regards to the peeking, assuming that people have a right to control access to their property.

A second way is to peek into “private space” from “public space.” In the case of the “old way” a person could stand on the public sidewalk and look into other peoples’ windows or yards—or use binoculars to do so. In the “new” way, a person can deploy his agent (the drone) in public space in order to do the same sort of thing.

One potential difference between the two situations is that a drone can fly and thus can get viewing angles that a person on the ground (or even with a ladder) could not get. For example, a drone might be in the airspace far above a person’s backyard, sending back images of the person sunbathing in the nude behind her very tall fence on her very large estate. However, this is not a new situation—paparazzi have used helicopters to get shots of celebrities and the ethics are the same. As such, ethics has not been outpaced by the drones in this regard.  This is not to say that the matter is solved—people are still debating the ethics of this sort of “spying”, but to say that it is not a case where technology has outpaced ethics.

What is mainly different about the drones is that they are now affordable and easy to use—so whereas only certain people could afford to hire a helicopter to get photos of celebrities, now camera-equipped drones are easily in reach of the hobbyist. So, it is not that the drone provides new capabilities that worries people—it is that it puts these capabilities in the hands of the many.


My Amazon Author Page

My Paizo Page

My DriveThru RPG Page

Enhanced by Zemanta

34 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. WTP said, on May 16, 2014 at 9:13 am

    This from a guy who’s not all that great at blog ethics.


  2. apollonian said, on May 16, 2014 at 10:00 am

    Mike: this is one of ur poorer essays, congratulations.

    • apollonian said, on May 16, 2014 at 10:06 am

      It’s like u were attempting to come up w. a thesis, and then u just stopped short.

  3. ajmacdonaldjr said, on May 16, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    WTP + appollian = the peanut gallery. Where’s your blogs and books guys? It’s easy to be a critic… try creating something for a change, because your criticism is boorish.

    • apollonian said, on May 16, 2014 at 1:35 pm

      give us an example, AJ–what’s “boorish”?–typical assertion without substantiation fm a pea-brain, eh? Ho ho ho ho

    • apollonian said, on May 16, 2014 at 1:42 pm

      And if anyone thinks my criticism is “boorish,” he should simply ck AJ’s blog for his fairly worthless book, “The World Perceived”; ck the first article for the blog: http://theworldperceived.blogspot.com/2013/06/this-link-is-to-facebook-page-for-my.html

    • WTP said, on May 16, 2014 at 2:47 pm

      I create more before noon than many philosophers create in their careers. I work a job in the real world. My “philosophy” is the software that I create. It must function, it cannot conflict, it must be logically tight. You say it is easy to be a critic, but that’s all modern philosophy itself has become, whiny criticism of people who do things. As I stated elsewhere:

      .. modern philosophers have evolved very thin skin? They’re all for attacking and finding fault with what is, but when the world bites back in even the most gentle way, they are stunned to find how little they really understand. Which of course can be quite a shock to their sophisticated temperaments. Requires significant reflection and introspection to use criticisms to understand why the world is different than how you perceive it and thus to change one’s ways for the better.


      … philosophers are good at talking about things. About how important some things are. About what is right and what is wrong. The latter based mostly on waiting to see the results of someone else’s efforts and then passing judgement as if they knew all along what the right thing to do was. But when it comes to putting action to their words, they freeze up. When you think about it, this is the very thing that makes them philosophers. What they fail to understand is that all of us (well, most of us anyway) who build things, sell things, make things, provide services, run banks, install sewer lines, etc. practice one form of philosophy or another. We think about how the job should be done and then we do it. What makes the rest of the world different from philosophers is that the philosophers stop at the thinking part. They think their job is all done then and the details are for the little people.


  4. ajmacdonaldjr said, on May 16, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    “In the midst of increasing mechanization and technological organization, propaganda is simply the means used to prevent these things from being felt as too oppressive and to persuade man to submit with good grace. When man will be fully adapted to this technological society, when he will end by obeying with enthusiasm, convinced of the excellence of what he is forced to do, the constraint of the organization will no longer be felt by him; the truth is, it will no longer be a constraint, and the police will have nothing to do. The civic and technological good will and the enthusiasm for the right social myths — both created by propaganda — will finally have solved the problem of man.” ~ Jaques Ellul

    • apollonian said, on May 16, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      AJ–why are u spamming the forum?–if it isn’t idiot videos with no reason why we should watch them, it’s this moronic crap.

  5. […] Drone Ethics Is Easy May 16th, 2014 — “When a new technology emerges it is not uncommon for people to claim that the technology is outpacing ethics and law. Because of the nature of law (at least in countries like the United States) it is very easy for technology to outpace the law. However, it is rather difficult for technology to truly outpace […]” 9 Comments […]

  6. apollonian said, on May 17, 2014 at 11:44 am

    The three neo-con stooges strike against enemies of Israel: http://soldiercitizen.wordpress.com/2014/05/16/blogs-democracy-free-speech-and-the-joker/#comments

  7. WTP said, on May 22, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Government ethics, not so much. Odd that soooo many GM cars are getting recalled sooooo soon after the Feds sold their remaining shares AND after the Feds were so harsh on Toyota for one problem nowhere near as egregious as GM’s. Thoughts TJ?


    • T. J. Babson said, on May 22, 2014 at 5:45 pm

      I’ve seen no evidence that today’s Democrats have any ethics.

      • WTP said, on May 22, 2014 at 8:49 pm

        Which is worse, contemplating the logistics of locking up members of the GOP for their position on AGW or the ethics of doing so on “Public” television, funded by tax dollars? Or doing similar at publicly funded universities?

          • TJB said, on May 22, 2014 at 10:32 pm

            Is there any doubt that leftist ideologies lead inexorably to totalitarianism?

            Sadly, Dems are now a leftist party. They left liberalism behind with Bill Clinton.

            • WTP said, on May 23, 2014 at 7:14 am

              And they left ethics behind with BC. Perjury is simply no big deal, especially when words lose their meaning. And when you consider that some of those who play such word games teach ethics, where does it end? Of course such people deny having any political leanings, despite consistently expressing socialist views…while denying being socialists.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 23, 2014 at 9:38 am

              If you mean that if people go far enough to the left, they end up in totalitarianism, then no doubt. Likewise, going far enough right leads there as well.

              Most Democrats are still liberals, like mainstream Republicans are still conservatives. But, the extremes of the parties are pushing the middle folks out or to the extremes. The Republicans realized this and are now engaged in a high cost battle with their own Tea Party-trying to keep more moderate Republicans in office rather than having the more right leaning Tea Party folks as candidates. Interestingly, even some of the very conservative traditional Republicans are being attacked for not being conservative enough-presumably because they are not Libertarians.

            • WTP said, on May 23, 2014 at 9:55 am

              Mike demonstrates yet again what a narrow, one dimensional perspective of political thought he has.

            • T. J. Babson said, on May 23, 2014 at 10:08 am

              “Likewise, going far enough right leads there as well.”

              Mike, how does limiting the size and scope of government possibly lead to totalitarianism?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 23, 2014 at 1:21 pm

              Communists propose to eliminate the state (Marx claimed it would wither away). So, the far left would also limit the size and scope of government down to zero.

              Sure, some people on the right advocate a smaller state. But: Fascism seems to be on the far right and that gives us the fascist state-the classic totalitarian state.

              Aristotle, who was no lefty, also advocates a totalitarian state in the most total sense. Mill, who was a lefty, advocates a limited state. Thoreau, who seems rather left, advocated no state-as did the very left Emma Goldman.

              Given that we seem to only allow two sides (left, right) it is hardly a surprise that many views on the state exist in those two permitted camps.

            • apollonian said, on May 23, 2014 at 10:28 am

              Ho ho ho, TJB: u finally crushed him, but good–I myself was trying to find a way to phrase just such an argument. Remember: Mike’s purpose is to induce OBEDIENCE upon the students by way of intimidation upon the theme of “ethics” and thus pretended “good-evil.”

            • apollonian said, on May 23, 2014 at 1:36 pm

              Mike: there’s just (a) reason, hence rule in accord w. law (natural law), “republic,” according to Cicero, and (b) ur favorite subjectivist mysticism (anti-reason) and “good,” thus fascism, rule according to force, regardless of reason and law.

              And as Boris Yeltsin pt’d out, Bolsheviks are red fascists, Nazis are brown fascists, fascism w. just slightly diff. styles.

              What prevails in USA (ZOG) is a criminal hegemony which prints-up and digitalizes fiat-money (through the US Federal Reserve Bank–legalized COUNTERFEITING) by which it now owns literally EVERYTHING, all the corp.s, all the “mainstream media,” all the politicians and judges–everything, w. only very few exceptions.

              Even Rand Paul has to go to Israel and pose at the “Wailing Wall”; even the T-party is heavily suffused w. Jew/neo-con money. “Mainstream” Dems and Reps are just fronts–as Jesse Ventura pt.s out (Jesse himself being very sympathetic to Jews).

            • WTP said, on May 23, 2014 at 1:36 pm

              Communists propose to eliminate the state (Marx claimed it would wither away). So, the far left would also limit the size and scope of government down to zero.

              One would have to either be a fool or a philosophy professor to believe such drivel. We must expand the state in order to destroy it. Makes sense to a sophist perhaps. And while we’re in the subject of Marxism, care to respond to my question at 9:50 AM below?

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 23, 2014 at 9:33 am

            Holding politicians accountable for willfully ignoring problems seems reasonable. For example, if Obama administration willfully ignored the problems that resulted in the deaths in Benghazi, then there should be punishment. As another example, if the Obama administration willfully ignored the problems in the VA, then there should be repercussions. Likewise, if politicians are willfully ignoring climate change and they thus play a role in allowing harm to occur, then they should be held accountable.

            But, rounding up and jailing people for their views would be a violation of the basic liberties of freedom of belief and freedom of expression.

            But, these freedoms do not cover willful ignorance nor intentional deceit. So, for example, Obama could not claim that he has the freedom to simply deny there are problems at the VA if there are problems. Likewise, if the climate is changing and this is causing harm, politicians lack the moral right to lie about it. The moral challenge is distinguishing between someone who says untrue things sincerely and those who are lying.

            To be clear: I’m against locking people up for expressing political views. So, no, the Republicans who deny climate change should not be jailed. But, if it turns out that climate change does extensive damage that could have been avoided but for these politicians, then they would have moral accountability.

            • WTP said, on May 23, 2014 at 9:50 am

              Likewise, if the climate is changing and this is causing harm, politicians lack the moral right to lie about it.

              Likewise, if there is no conclusive evidence that man is making a significant impact to global warming nor reason to believe that the degree of global warming is anywhere near the hysteria and concern expressed let alone the draconian measures proposed by many, then those politicians and “academics” would be morally responsible.

              Likewise, if there is conclusive evidence that Marxist theories put into practice have had huge negative economic AND ecological consequences, proven time and time again in dozens and dozens of countries across the globe, resulting in the deaths of up to 100 million people and possibly even more, yet those theories continue to be praise, proposed, and propagated through the media and academia, should not those politicians, “journalists”, and academics be held morally responsible?

            • apollonian said, on May 23, 2014 at 9:55 am

              Mike: Reductio-Ad-Absurdum For Public Education

              Good lord, but what putrid question-begging–WHAT “climate change”?–don’t u thisunk u have obligation as teacher, Ph.d, and anything to first establish what u’re talking about?–which u can’t do, we see. “Climate-change” is PROVEN fraud, and to cover it u merely cite appeal to authority, paid bureaucratic and other gov.-funded prostitutes who are extorted and bribed to lie, u ignoring the obvious agenda (world dictatorship) and benefits to accrue to these criminals. And ur excuse is, “gee, but what if it was true?–I can’t prove it isn’t true” (appeal to ignorance)–the “noble lie” and lying of Plato and Strauss.

              And compounding it all, u’re paid out of tax-payers funds, not only doing no good whatsoever, but actually doing harm, spreading falsehoods–and this is aside fm ur anti-social views against free-market, for gay-privileges, and against racial loyalty. U’re reduction-ad-absurdum for “public edjumacation,” truly.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 23, 2014 at 9:20 am

        None of them? Do you mean just the Democrat politicians or all people who are registered Democrats?

        • WTP said, on May 23, 2014 at 9:37 am

          Where’s your concern in this regard as to what Howard Dean said in the video? Or are you incapable of dealing with the context of the discussion? In some ways, your response is a confirmation of TJ’s point. Though I suppose you could deny being a Democrat or having anything to do with said group. Thus confirming my point.

        • T. J. Babson said, on May 23, 2014 at 8:28 pm

          Silence implies consent. If Democrats don’t object when Democratic leader Howard Dean says that Republicans “aren’t American” one can only conclude that they agree with him.

          • WTP said, on May 23, 2014 at 9:45 pm

            C’mon TJ, Mike’s been over this ground many times before. Your piont is a fallacy. Just like the fact that the MSM spent more time covering Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal in four days than they have spent in a month on this VA business is no reflection on their bias. It’s what “real” people care about.


          • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 27, 2014 at 7:44 pm

            Republicans are Americans. Howard Dean was in error. But, given his failures in politics, I’m reasonably sure that most Democrats don’t agree with him about stuff. Also, I can’t respond to everything that Democrats say, so to infer that I agree if I do not write out a condemnation would be rather absurd. I don’t expect Republicans to condemn every false/horrible/stupid thing some Republican might say.

          • TJB said, on May 27, 2014 at 11:05 pm

            Mike, I seem to remember Dems wanting Republicans to apologize for Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a slut.

            Rush Limbaugh is a radio personality, whereas Howard Dean has a leadership role in the Democratic Party. Do you acknowledge a difference?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 28, 2014 at 6:27 am

              Rush was wrong, too. But, the Republican Party is not accountable for him-unless he is on the payroll or part of the party apparatus. If this was when Dean was working for the Democrat’s machine, then the party would have some degree of responsibility. I’m vaguely uncomfortable with making others condemn people-it seems a bit like that PC policing people so often cry about.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: