Drones in humanitarian contexts, robot ethics, and the human–robot interaction

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There are two dominant trends in the humanitarian care of 2019: the ‘technologizing of care’ and the centrality of the humanitarian principles. The concern, however, is that these two trends may conflict with one another. Faced with the growing use of drones in the humanitarian space there is need for ethical reflection to understand if this technology undermines humanitarian care. In the humanitarian space, few agree over the value of drone deployment; one school of thought believes drones can provide a utility serving those in need while another believes the large scale deployment of drones will exacerbate the already prevalent issues facing humanitarian aid providers. We suggest in this paper that the strength of the humanitarian principles approach to answer questions of aid provision can be complimented by a technology-facing approach, namely that of robot ethics. We have shown that for humanitarian actors we ought to be concerned with the risks of a loss of contextualization and de-skilling. For the beneficiary, we raise three concerns associated with the threat to the principle of humanity for this group: a loss of dignity by reducing human-to-human interactions; a threat to dignity through a lack of informational transparency; and, a threat to dignity by failing to account for the physiological and behavioral impacts of the drone on human actors. Although we acknowledge the obstacles (and dangers) associated with understanding the physiological and behavioral impacts we insist that the moral acceptability and desirability of drones in humanitarian contexts is dependent on the findings from such studies and that tailored ethical guidelines for drone deployment in humanitarian action be created to reflect the results of such studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
JournalEthics and Information Technology
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Dignity
  • Drones
  • Humanitarian ethics
  • Robot ethics
  • Robots

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