Values in Defence and Security Technology

The Values in Defence and Security Technology group (VDST) aims to be the global leader in the value dimension of weapons and security engineering research and analysis. It is a multi-million-dollar initiative that serves as essential knowledge resource, enabler and value adding partner for UNSW Canberra researchers, including other SEIT research strength groups and, notably, the international defence and security community. The overarching theme of the group is to encourage responsible design, innovation and technology deployment in the defence and security space, with particular interests in emerging technologies, including: lethal autonomous weapons systems; drones; artificial intelligence, big data, block chain, military human enhancement, space and quantum computing.

No human designed system or algorithm is perfect, nor value neutral. Each has flaws, biases and vulnerabilities, and these are inherently social in nature rather than technical. These flaws can be gamed in a way that is both counterproductive and dangerous. How do we account for these flaws, what decisions must be made in response, and how is the implicit design of modern systems important to solving outcomes-related challenges? We cannot pretend that engineers or technological tools alone will magically solve our disagreements over the value-laden normative systems we use to distinguish good from bad. Technology is not an exemption from the hard work of discussing our implicit value systems, but rather a call to further investigate how our value systems interact with technical systems. Technological society is progressing too rapidly to be so naïve as to think that technological excellence can be achieved independently of an appreciation and critical analysis of values.

The value dimension of defence engineering and security is important for the further development, social acceptance and moral acceptability of technological innovations. Lack of public support for an innovation often means that it is not introduced into society even though it might make a positive contribution to society in some way or is introduced after its potential contribution or yield is significantly diminished. Other times, the innovation is pushed through despite lack of public support, which sometimes means that public concerns are ignored and technology falters. A value-sensitive approach provides for an alternative paradigm: the choice should not be between foregoing a potentially helpful innovation or pushing it through despite justified concerns. Rather, the value-sensitive innovation approach pays particular attention to important values in the design as well as in the implementation of technological innovations, and in the people and institutions that introduce and govern them, yielding maximally effective technologies for the long term.

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