Sunday, December 16, 2012

Debating the ethics of drones



Debating the ethics of drones

Professor discusses military, other uses.

Sunday News

Dec 01, 2012 23:24


• Dr. Jay Parrish discusses the ethics of drones Saturday at...

By Paula Wolf

Staff Writer

Dr. Jay Parrish's detailed talk about the pros and cons of drone technology — held Saturday [December 1] at Manheim Township Public Library — raised ethical, legal and moral questions.

But the one foremost on some people's minds was: How will the U.S. react when other countries with drones start taking out American targets?

That's why Lancaster city resident Trace Oberholtzer came out to hear Parrish. "Something doesn't sit right" about the United States' military use of drones, he said.

The appearance by Parrish, a professor of practice for geospatial intelligence in the Duttone-Education Institute at Penn State University, was sponsored by the local group 1040 For Peace. Also on display was a 20 percent replica of a weapon-carrying drone, which 1040 For Peace brought in to accompany Parrish's visit.

His presentation, "Drones: Friend or Foe?" delved into much more than the controversial military uses of drone technology to target suspected terrorists in places such as Afghanistan.

In fact, Parrish said, the word "drone" is an older term; the more accurate one is "unmanned aerial system," or UAS.

Two advantages UAS's have over manned aircraft are that they remove pilots from danger and access areas piloted planes cannot, Parrish said.

There are different classifications and sizes, he said, including the "nano" type, which can be shaped like a small bird, complete with flapping wings.

Some unmanned aerial systems are intended to fly five years nonstop, Parrish said, a revelation that drew a "Wow!" reaction from the audience of close to three dozen.

UAS's began as large, expensive reconnaissance craft and have since evolved into Predator drones, which cost $5 million each, he said.

The "incredibly long wings" of the Predator permit it to carry six weapons, such as laser-guided bombs, Parrish said.

But there also are quite a few innocuous uses for unmanned aerial systems, he said.

They can be employed for municipal mapping purposes, Parrish said, and to measure elevations.

UAS's could provide an accurate elevation map for all of Pennsylvania in three years, he said.

Using a computer, Parrish relied on photos and videos to aid his presentation, and one picture he showed was a UAS-generated topographical image of the Susquehanna River.

"We can see a lot more detail than we used to," he said.

The technology also can help with disaster response by going to areas "where it's very difficult to send a human being," Parrish said.

And it could play a key role in public safety, he said. For example, a nano drone would be able to enter a fire-engulfed building to see if people are trapped inside.

In addition, swarms of UAS's can create three-dimensional images of remote areas, like the peaks of volcanoes, Parrish said.

But then he got into more thorny issues.

Parrish talked about science fiction writer Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, the first of which says a robot "may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."

He also brought up Kurt Volker, a former U.S. NATO representative, who asks if the United States really wants to be a nation that has a "kill list."

According to a recent article in the New York Times, about 2,500 people have been killed in UAS strikes by the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. military since President Obama took office. "Obama and his advisers are still debating whether remote-control killing should be a measure of last resort against imminent threats to the United States," the story reported, "or a more flexible tool, available to help allied governments attack their enemies or to prevent militants from controlling territory."

Someday, UAS's may deliver pizza, or bring medicine to a critically sick child, Parrish said.

But there's also the danger that a swarm will find its way into the hands of a homegrown terrorist, he said.

And other nations can easily develop UAS's, Parrish said, so "what if they use them against us?"

"It's not sophisticated technology," he said. "That's why so many countries can make them."

Parrish will also present "Drones: Friend or Foe?" at 6 and 8 p.m. Friday at The Seed in Place Marie Mall, 52 N. Queen St.

Read more:

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

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