Is the delivery of drones ethically correct?

Sylvia Johnigk advises companies on IT issues and is a board member of Forum Computer Scientists for Peace and Social Responsibility (FIfF). The association emerged from the peace movement of the 1980s, and its members are critical of ethical issues in the IT world.

sueddeutsche.de: Your association is committed to peace. What does this have to do with information technology?

Sylvia Johnigk: Very much. For the military in particular, new high-tech weapons are constantly being developed that work without any human intervention. Automatic weapon systems in which only the computer decides whether and when to fire at a target. Technology makes it possible, but it should always be critically questioned whether what technology can also serve the well-being of people. In the future, the systems will even be further developed in such a way that they can "learn" independently.

sueddeutsche.de: You don't like this vision of the future?

Sylvia Johnigk: Many programmers are enthusiastic about the idea of ​​a robot that develops itself thanks to its programmed intelligence. But there is an ethical question connected with this, namely that of responsibility. Who takes over when the robot attacks someone? When it comes to a weapon system that decides who is attacked, many computer scientists reject responsibility for the consequences.

sueddeutsche.de: How do programmers justify this?

Sylvia Johnigk: There is a critical film on the subject called "Plug and Pray". In it, some computer scientists explain that a developer cannot be responsible for a robot developing itself further, depending on how its environment affects it. That would allegedly be comparable to the development process of a child: later on, parents would no longer have to take responsibility for their children's crimes. Such robots with artificial intelligence would then need their own insurance and would have to be defended in court by a lawyer.

sueddeutsche.de: In some professions, such as medicine, there are ethical guidelines that are generally accepted. Doesn't that exist for computer scientists?

Sylvia Johnigk: The Gesellschaft für Informatik (GI) has drawn up some guidelines. For example, that a computer scientist does not install surveillance technology without informing those affected. A computer scientist should always keep himself up to date with the latest technology and enable his employees to do so. They in particular are often overwhelmed because they do not get the right training opportunities. The main purpose of these guidelines is to stimulate discussion. Ethical rules should not be imposed with the moral index finger, but there must be an awareness of the responsibility that one also has as a computer scientist.

sueddeutsche.de: The German Ethics Council, which mainly consists of biologists, historians and physicians, also deals with the effects of scientific developments on people. Shouldn't an expert in information technology also belong to the group?

Sylvia Johnigk: That would be good. IT issues belong on the agenda of the Ethics Council, because the IT world has changed modern society forever. Information is processed completely differently today than it was 40 years ago. Almost everyone now owns a smartphone or regularly browses the Internet - hardly anyone can escape the influence of this technology.

sueddeutsche.de: What are the most pressing questions?

Sylvia Johnigk: In addition to the question of responsibility, there are also issues such as privacy and data protection. Or the right to information, which should be a human right, but is increasingly being crushed between the interests of large corporations and politics. They discuss much more about ways of restricting, regulating or monitoring the Internet.

sueddeutsche.de: Politicians often see the anonymous network as a danger. Doesn't this anonymity contradict basic ethical rules such as honesty and truth?

Sylvia Johnigk: In my opinion, anonymity on the Internet increases the degree of truth. In this way, a whistleblower can bring to light things that others would have preferred to keep secret without fear of persecution. Those in power or even companies naturally see a danger in this, because it simply breaks part of their power: their influence is diminishing.

sueddeutsche.de: Is it then ethically correct for groups of hackers to spy out and publish secret data?

Sylvia Johnigk: This is a valuation question that is not very easy to answer. In general, such measures are considered to be good if they are used to protest against a barbaric dictatorship. But even in a democratic state things can come to light that politicians would have preferred to cover up. Criminal activities, such as stealing data in order to then make a profit, can never be justified on the basis of ethical considerations.

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