Death machines

The ethics of violent technologies

Author: Elke Schwarz

As innovations in military technologies race toward ever-greater levels of automation and autonomy, debates over the ethics of violent technologies tread water. Discussions about whether lethal drones are the most moral and effective tools to combat terrorism, or whether killer robots could kill more ethically than humans, often end up conflating efficiency with morality and legality with ethicality. Such conceptual confusions raise urgent questions about what is at work in the relationship between lethal technologies, their uses, and the ethical justifications provided for technologised practices of political violence. What enables the framing of instruments for killing as inherently ethical? What socio-political rationale underpins these processes? And what kind of ethical framework for violence is produced in such a socio-political context? Death Machines reframes current debates on the ethics of technologised practices of violence, arguing that the way we conceive of the ethics of contemporary warfare is itself imbued with a set of bio-technological rationalities that work as limits. The task for critical thought must therefore be to unpack, engage, and challenge these limits. Drawing on the work of Hannah Arendt, the book offers a close reading of the technology-biopolitics-complex that informs and produces contemporary subjectivities, highlighting the perilous implications this has for how we think about the ethics of political violence, both now and in the future.

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