Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

The Pragmatics of Robotic Warfare

Morten Dige, Aarhus University, Denmark

This paper is about the import of what I propose to call the pragmatics of robotic warfare. Pragmatics in linguistics concerns itself with the significance of an utterance's context in terms of e.g. the intentions of and relations between the language users. Abstracting from such context involves a high risk of misunderstandings or incomprehension.  Analogously, the pragmatics of a technology provides context in terms of the technology’s concrete workings, the intentions of its development, its social and political genesis, its in-built purposes, the relations of those affected by the technology and so on. Pragmatic considerations thus move from the "tactical" level of the concrete practical use of a given technology to the "strategic" level of the overall aims and strategies of robotic warfare and the positions of those affected. The point is that such pragmatic features constitute the design of technologies and weapons systems and thus define their realistic applications. I will argue that the pragmatics of robotic warfare include morally problematic strategies of aggression, extreme power asymmetry and maximum protection of ‘our’ combatants at the expense of ‘their’ civilians. I further argue that certain arguments in favour of robotic warfare are based on a naïve analysis of immoral behaviour by non-robotic, i.e. human combatants, an analysis that is once again abstracted from the pragmatics of the armed conflicts in question.