The social commentary deeply hidden within the 2004 movie I,Robot was that humanity is often the biggest threat to itself. P.W. Singer poses a similar notion in his lecture "Wired for War", referring to our own destructive nature, and pointing out that much of our technology has blossomed from a desire to destroy each other. In the movie, the three laws programmed to protect people lead to a robotic revolution. It turned out the only way to protect us was to relieve us of our command. Depicting a well-intentioned group of androids who attacked humans for their own good, it resonated hauntingly.
Consider for a moment that the human element is where deontological philosophy finds its roots, and often the unwillingness to act in the interest of the greater good is detrimental to society. This moral stance opposes the utilitarian philosophy that is readily employed by government and military organizations that have to approach decisions with broad accountability. Emotions are often what inspire us to behave irrationally. The theory here is that our inability to see beyond our feelings is something that frequently negatively impacts us, but as with everything there is balance, and these illogical sensations have positive roles as well.
Two recent articles examined the recent reports of Predator pilots suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). "Predator" drones are Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) currently used to provide aerial support to troops on the ground. In the U.S., they are remotely piloted from bases in California, Arizona, and Nevada.
These pilots and sensor operators feel psychological symptoms from unleashing ammunition and watching the aftermath on high definition video monitors during the day, and then going home to their families at night. Can we blame them? One of the classic causes of PTSD is the lack of proper debriefing and decompression after enduring disturbing events. What they are enduring is not actual combat, but the psychological issues emerge just the same. This brings up some interesting contemplations.
One of the determining factors of the likelihood of a human being to kill, aside from desensitization, is mechanical distance. A sniper is deadly because killing from a mile away removes the intimacy confronted by a soldier in hand to hand combat. Technology provides degrees of separation that allow us to follow through with our gruesome endeavors, so how is this emotional phenomenon explained?
The Xbox game Modern Warfare II had multiple scenes in which the character controlled a predator drone, and the visual imagery was barely distinguishable from the real thing. Perhaps the impact of acknowledging the reality of what is happening is what is causing said symptoms. If this were the case, however, people watching natural disasters on the news would be in the therapist's office. So, if not the constant exposure to graphic depictions of violence, or the understanding that the images are of authentic momentary events, then there is a distinct guilt factor lurking ominously as an undertone to this psychological affliction.
The technology we utilize does not experience remorse, anguish, or lamentation, so as much work as it is to treat PTSD, it is probably for the best that our war machines are kept in check by our irrational compassion . . . on the other hand, we did create fanaticism and ideology . . .