Jewish Law, Techno-Ethics, and Autonomous Weapon Systems: Ethical-Halakhic Perspectives

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Techno-ethics is the area in the philosophy of technology which deals with emerging robotic and digital AI technologies. In the last decade, a new techno-ethical challenge has emerged: Autonomous Weapon Systems (AWS), defensive and offensive (the article deals only with the latter). Such AI-operated lethal machines of various forms (aerial, marine, continental) raise substantial ethical concerns. Interestingly, the topic of AWS was almost not treated in Jewish law and its research. This article thus proposes an introductory ethical-halakhic perspective on AWS, in the Israeli context. The article has seven sections. Section 1 defines AWS and the main ethical concerns it evokes, while providing elementary definitions and distinctions. §2 locates AWS within the realm of Jewish laws of war (hilkhot-ẓava), which recognize the right for self-defense, as well as the status of universally accepted moral norms. §3 unfolds pragmatic ethical premises of a humane techno-ethics, which are required for the identifying AWS as a moral question: I. Relationality; II. Technology is not (completely) neutral; III. The fallaciousness of transhumanism. It is argued that these premises are compatible with halakhic tradition. §4 investigates the question of the morality of AWS, within the field of military AI ethics. It is clarified why the standard categories of war-ethics (ad bello, in bellum) do not capture the singular ethical problem of AWS, which pertains to the operation of military means, rather than their human targets. It is argued that reductive perception of the human mind is misleading about the feasibility of ‘ethical robots’, capable of independent moral discretion. To provide a thick examination of human agency from the perspective of Jewish tradition, §5 explores two stories from the biblical book of Samuel (the murder of Nob’s priests and of Uriah). The lessons about the significance of moral agency within the pubic-political military sphere are made explicit, as well as the possible costs resulting from the loss of human agency in the case of AWS. Given that realpolitik considerations are basic in halakhah, §6 considers some possible contemporary socio-political implications of the AWS, that may risk the sustainability of the democratic project. §7 concludes by pointing out humane contributions of Jewish law to contemporary techno-ethics.
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Archival date: 2021-01-09
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