Ethics of Weapons Technology Development (Conference Chair’s Special Session)
Friday, May 19, 10:30 am – Noon

As technologies become increasingly complex they also become less intelligible to non-experts. This necessitates greater trust, on the part of publics, that those who create, operate, and oversee these technologies will develop them in a manner that serves public interests. This is particularly true of weapons of war, given the dire consequences of their use—the destruction of infrastructure, environments, and human bodies. Yet engineering ethics is commonly neglected in this domain, as the exigencies of warfare and national defense are often thought to override such concerns. The ethical challenges that arise from this tension will only become more acute with the rising threat of conflict between major military powers armed with ever-more-advanced weaponry.

This panel will explore ethical challenges in weapons technology development, drawing on case studies of three technologies: nuclear explosives, hypersonic missiles, and algorithms for the estimation of collateral damage. These cases highlight key ethical failings in prior weapons development including the embeddedness of racist values in weapons systems, incompatibilities between practices of weapons development and principles of democratic governance, and hazards of overreliance on computational models for war planning. Ultimately, this panel will illustrate a pressing need for greater attention to the ethical implications of weapons technologies to ensure that they benefit the human security of the publics on whose behalf they are developed and used.

John Emery, Assistant Professor, International and Area Studies, University of Oklahoma
Cameron Tracy, Research Scholar, Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University
Aditi Verma, Assistant Professor, Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences, University of Michigan

Greg Adamson, School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne