When Robots Can Kill

Robotic technology is advancing rapidly, raising questions about decision-making processes in shooting to kill.


Although robotics have many applications, much of the research on robots is funded by military services and defense contractors. This raises serious ethical questions for university researchers working on robotics projects, especially as tracking and firing systems become automatic.

Peter Singer (Brookings Institute) argues: “Too often scientists try and kid themselves. … [They] act like just because I work on this system that is not directly a weapon system I have nothing to do with war.” Singer is the author of Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century (Penguin, 2009).

The robotics technologies are new, but many of the ethical questions of distance, target identification, and decision-making in the act of killing have long histories. For one perspective on such questions, see Paul Virilio, War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception (London: Verso, 1989).

NPR reports on military robots and robotics competitions.

This entry was posted in Arms Control, History of Science, History of Violence, Laws of War, War, Culture, and Society. Bookmark the permalink.

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