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Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), have been in the news a lot because of their use in recent wars. But just because a technology has been used for violent purposes, does that mean that the technology is in itself unethical?

A UAV is simply an aircraft that doesn't need a human pilot on board. Instead a pilot flies the plane via remote control from far away, even on the other side of the world. UAVs are used either to carry something (weapons in military use) or to gather information as eyes in the sky.  They tend to be used in cases where some combination of these reasons are true:

  • It would be too dangerous for a pilot to be physically present
  • Surveillance is needed for longer than any pilot can fly
  • It is cheaper to gather information this way.

A military Micro Air Vehicle in testing source

While initially developed as weapons, more and more uses are being found for UAVs in non-military contexts. Some are controversial, others just plain useful.

The issue for drones boils down to a simple question - do UAVs allow their operators to act unethically in a way that they wouldn't do if they were actually in the aircraft?

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Avoiding harm:

If military robots are allowed to make their own decisions, they could make mistakes, causing innocent people to get hurt.
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Doing good:

Is mass surveillance via eyes in the sky a good thing or a bad thing? Does it do us all good by helping those responsible for our safety? Or is our right to privacy of higher importance?
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Eyes in the sky allow the pilot to view and hear things that would would normally be hidden. Do we need restrictions on who can use UAVs and where?

What's your opinion?

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