The Notre Dame International Security Center (NDISC) is proud to organize and host a variety of important and informative conversations featuring leading thinkers in their respective fields in our Seminar Series. In March 2022, we took a different approach—welcoming four experts to campus as we discussed the ethics of new weapons technology to help us think more intelligently about the development of these new technologies and the impact they have on the world now and in the future.
Beba Cibralic is a doctoral student at Georgetown University, where she’s earning her degree in philosophy. During her presentation, she presented three objectives: provide an overview of ethics as they concern artificial intelligence (AI), discuss intellectual assumptions, and talk about the military applications for AI.
“Many of the issues that we’re dealing with in the context of AI have to do with ethical, social, and political concerns and not with technical concerns even though the actual technology itself is really important,” Cibralic said, “There are deep conceptual and ethical disagreements about how we use AI and we should take them seriously, but we can continue to make progress in specific domains even though we continue to have these disagreements. How we think about AI is going to be very contextually specific, so the kind risk we’re willing to tolerate in the context of inscrutability might look different in the military versus in a business context.”
In 2006, Dr. Robert Latiff retired from the US Air Force as a Major General. He is now an Adjunct Professor at Notre Dame, where he specializes in the philosophy of science and technology and the ethics of emerging technologies.
“I think advanced weapons are so seductive that they invite their own use,” Latiff said, “Technology is advancing so fast that it’s hard if not impossible for—even engineers—to keep up with what’s going on. Hypersonics, no one’s quite figured out yet how they work in strategy. No one’s figured out their use, but we’re spending a lot of money on them. Even what’s going on in Ukraine falls squarely in this tech ethics area.”
“I think technologists are very concerned with how you do things,” says Jon Lindsay, an Associate Professor at the School of Cybersecurity and Privacy at Georgia Tech, “Ethicists are obviously very concerned about why."
Since technology is permanently linked to ethics, Professor Lindsay pondered the relationships that exists between religion and violence, and between social media and scapegoating.
“In my last year at Stanford as a college student, I had the great fortune of taking the last seminar offered by Rene Girard before he retired. Girard is controversial for a number of reasons, but he tackled the idea of what humans want—do we want things for economic reasons or for social reasons? Girard argued in favor of the latter. In a mentor model, our desire to imitate is a good thing, but if you’re imitating from a position of scarcity, we come into conflict. Conflict and rivalry can be contagious, leading to crises in communities, and the things that keep us together start to fall apart.”
Scott Sagan is a professor of Political Science at Stanford University and a co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation.
“It behooves us to recognize that we’re having this seminar in the middle of the War in Ukraine and that technology and weapons of mass destruction are deeply entwined with this war. While some of Vladimir Putin’s actions are bluster and bluff, he does remind the West, Ukraine, and the US that Russia is a nuclear power.”
Scott posed a number of hypothetical questions including outcomes of the War in Ukraine up to and including the international response would be if Putin used illegal weapons. The underlying message of Sagan’s presentation is that “we should be scared enough to make smart decisions in the days ahead. And meetings like this roundtable help us make better decisions.”
NDISC is proud to host these important conversations, and we pride ourselves on making these events available to anyone interested in attending both live and online. If you’re interested in attending future events, please keep an eye on our events schedule and subscribe to our email newsletter!