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Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine (IBME)

Research grant approved for the project on integrating ethical values in the humanitarian use of drones

The Swiss Network for International Studies (SNIS) granted two-year funding to a research project conducted by researchers at the IBME and McGill - Ning Wang, Dr. Markus Christen, and Prof. Matthew Hunt. This is a collaborative and trans-disciplinary project across public, private and academic sectors, project partners include international organisations, such as WHO, World Food Program, Médécin Sans Frontières and Medair; as well as academic institutions, such as McGill University, University of St. Gallen, and the Free University of Brussels. The project investigates the opportunities and challenges for the integration of ethical values in the humanitarian use of drones. The development of the grant application was supported jointly by the IBME and the Digital Society Initiative (DSI) at the UZH.

Humanitarian organizations are increasingly implementing innovative technologies as they respond to the needs of communities affected by war, disaster or public health emergencies. However, technological innovation intersects with moral values, norms and commitments, and may challenge humanitarian imperatives. Therefore, a substantive normative analysis of ethical issues associated with humanitarian innovation is a pressing need for understanding what is at stake and how best to move forward. In our study, we will analyse how humanitarian stakeholders should respond to the ethical, legal, social and regulatory challenges raised by new technologies, using the example of drones. We aim to answer three questions:

  1. What is known about the interplay between technological innovation and ethical values, norms and commitments in the humanitarian use of drones?
  2. How should shared or disparate values of humanitarian stakeholders be interpreted and addressed in the development and deployment of drones?
  3. What policies and guidance tools can best direct the integration of ethical values in humanitarian innovations?

To answer these questions, we will map the technological landscape by conducting a scoping review of academic and grey literature, and undertaking three case studies of humanitarian drone use in mapping, cargo delivery, and telecommunication network. Based on the research findings, we will perform an in-depth normative analysis, and develop an ethical framework of a set of publicly accessible governance toolkits, including policy recommendations, webinars and training modules.