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Morality: Software that kills?

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  • User profile image
    Manip

    What is everyone's moral position on writing software that they know will kill a human?

    I am not so much talking about software that if buggy could potentially get someone killed (e.g. Heart machine)... I am talking about things like missile guidance systems, robots with lasers, target acquisition systems etc that are designed to take human life.


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  • User profile image
    Tensor

    I predict a roughly equal mix of:

    "I wouldnt do it"

    "what are you, some sort of bleeding heart liberal dogooder"

    answers to this question.

  • User profile image
    jdewalt

    Guns don't kill people.

    Robots with machine guns kill people.

  • User profile image
    JohnAskew

    Manip wrote:
    What is everyone's moral position on writing software that they know will kill a human?


    Too general a question to be interpreted consistently, imho.

    I would suggest a detailed scenario where you specify whether the design of the system is murder, defense, or something which would indirectly cause a human death.

    The only one of those that I would not be adverse to would be defense.

    Software that beeps and startles folks into jumping off rooftops is not immoral. You have to be very specific with the application of the software -- the intent of its design.

    Why the question?

  • User profile image
    Tyler Brown

    Most software has multiple applications, for example, a guidance system. Such a system could be implemented in a number of different scenarios. If I were working on such a system with the knowledge that my guidance system would be used in missiles... I could sleep comfortably at night. I live in a country that wouldn't abuse such weapons, and would make use of them only in combat.

  • User profile image
    billh

    Good question.  My brother in law used to work as an electrical engineer at a company that helped build Patriot missiles (during the Gulf War days)  I suppose that would count as a "good kind" of missile? I'm not sure.

  • User profile image
    BlackTigerX

    any technology can be used for good or evil, so I don't see why this would be a big deal, since we have record of there have been people that create all kinds of weapons, software is just an addition to it

  • User profile image
    Tyler Brown

    You must also realize that quite often a project that is being designed to conform to the needs of the military will usually also filter down into the consumer market not long after...

  • User profile image
    footballism

    billh wrote:

    I suppose that would count as a "good kind" of missile? I'm not sure.

    Good kind? how so?
    [sarcasm/]

    Sheva

  • User profile image
    Manip

    Tyler Brown wrote:
    I live in a country that wouldn't abuse such weapons, and would make use of them only in combat.


    I don't know which country you live in but I can categorically say that is untrue for ANY country. UK, USA, France, Australia, Canada or Germany we have all abused weapons both in and out of combat at one time.


    What I want to know, if you were asked to design software that directly pulls the trigger would that be morally right or wrong? What if it is a defencive system (e.g. Patriot missiles, Auto-Guns etc); does that make killing people OK? And SHOULD you have to worry about the morals as it isn't you personally pulling the trigger?

  • User profile image
    Maurits

    Guidance software doesn't kill people.  Shrapnel kills people.  Fire kills people.

    At least if the guidance software works, the people getting killed are the ones that were aimed at.  There are actual recorded incidents of missiles with poor guidance software turning 180 degrees after launch and blowing up their own launch site, together with anyone in the nearby area.

  • User profile image
    Yggdrasil

    <This brings me back to the good old days in the Off Topic Discussions forum on GotDotNet...>

    Trying to answer that question, I find myself always taking another step backwards.
    - Would I work on a system that will guide missiles?
    - Would I work for an airforce that would use those missiles on people? (I did. I served 6 years in the Israeli Air-Force as a programmer. Nothing to do with missiles, but it's still the same corps).

    Pretty soon it stars escalating:
    - Would I support / pay taxes to / stay and live in a country whose government would order the air-force to fire missiles on people?

    This brings up the subject of individual responsibility for a collective - is every American responsible for a death in Iraq, for instance? Only those who voted for Bush? Only those in the army? Only those in the specific regiment? Only the one pulling the trigger?

    To get back to the original subject, I am undecided on the issue. On one hand, I do believe that weapons are an unfortunate neccesity in this day and age, and should not be scrapped out of hand. Thus, I see no problem in working to develop those weapons.
    I do not, however, believe the weapons in this world are used wisely, and do not trust my or any other government to use them properly. So I would feel my work on such projects would ultimately be used for bad purposes.
    Hmpf.

  • User profile image
    msemack

    A lot of the code I write gets used in military/national security applications.  Some of it gets used in "killing" machines (missiles, tanks, etc).

    As a specific example: one of our most recent projects was part of a system for sniper detection.  Our code didn't "kill" anyone, but it was involved in finding the location of the sniper so that a tank could take him out.

    Do I have a problem with it?  Not at all.  It's part of protecting our country and its troops.

    My personal feelings on specific military operations are entirely tangential to this.  Whether or not we should be in Iraq doesn't really enter into the equation.  Protecting our troops is a good thing.

    Now, if someone from a foreign governemnt came to our company and said "I want to buy your stuff to blow up rebelling civilians in my country", it would be another matter...

  • User profile image
    W3bbo

    footballism wrote:
    billh wrote:
    I suppose that would count as a "good kind" of missile? I'm not sure.

    Good kind? how so?
    [sarcasm/]

    Sheva


    "Patriot missiles" are defensive missiles, they're intended to shoot down incoming ICBMs and other warheads, and possibly offensive enemy aircraft.

    I have no quarlms with designing systems to destroy ICBMs or aircraft carrying nukes.

    But I wouldn't want to be involved in designing any "riot control", generally offensive, inhumane, or "designed to kill, period" devices/weapons.

    But hey... it depends on the context.

    In the present day, I wouldn't get invovled whatsoever. But if this was a fight for survival or anything, then I might consider getting involved in slightly "dirtier" work provided it helped the "right" side.

  • User profile image
    JKelley

    I think the answer is "it depends", I wouldn't mind working on Windows which indirectly may be used in the process of guiding or controlling weapons systems, but I probably wouldn't program a tracking system whose primary goal is to control weapons. 

    In any case it makes me want to go watch Real Genius for the billionth time.  Smiley  Everybody wants to rule the world...

  • User profile image
    Manip

    I really want to ask about absolutely direct work on weapons. I mean any Operating System or application lib could potentially get used for weapons but rarely is that the programmers direct intention. I want to know what you think if you worked on an application that "pulled the trigger" so to speak.

  • User profile image
    Erisan

    Good question.
    I can't and I won't...

  • User profile image
    zzzzz

    Yes and be proud to do it

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