One episode of the original Star Trek television series was a story about a technically advanced society that was flourishing in the midst of war. People wandered leisurely through the streets, drank lattes at sidewalk cafes amidst gleaming skyscrapers and well manicured landscapes. The war being waged between two cultures was conducted in the virtual world via computer models. If one side scored a tactical hit , the theoretical kill numbers were converted into the names of real people who were then required to report to extermination centers where they would be put to death. Meanwhile, the rest of society, its infrastructure and its environment, remained untouched in what was described as a humane war.
The banality of such horror was a horror in itself — as if war and humane could actually complement one another. I never forgot the story and so a chill rose up my spine when I came across an article entitled, “Cyberwar and Peace,” by Thomas Rid. The premise:
Weaponized computer code and computer-based sabotage operations make it possible to carry out highly targeted attacks on an adversary’s technical systems without directly and physically harming human operators and managers. (“Cyberwar and Peace,” by Thomas Rid, Foreign Affairs, Nov/Dec 2013 pg. 77)
To illustrate his point, the author refers to Stuxnet, the US and Israelis joint assault on Iran’s nuclear weapons system. The cyber attack caused havoc with the Iranian’s program yet was nonviolent and sometimes caused greater damage than through a traditional assault. (Ibid pg. 84) What’s more, like the use of drones, no foot soldiers had to be placed in jeopardy. (Ibid 86) For this reason and a few others, Rid concludes, “In many situations, the use of computers would be ethically preferable to the use of conventional weapons.” (Ibid pg. 85)
After reading this analysis, I asked the same questions posed by the Star Trek episode. What are the ethics of a comfortable war? What are its consequences?
When people can talk about the compatibility of war with peace, when they can acquiesce to weapons of mass destruction because the effects are sanitized, when they fail to see or feel the consequences of their decisions, then these people are closing a chapter on humanity as we know it. Technology unleashed without a conscience makes drones of us all.
(Courtesy of kooltvblogspot.com)