By Disanalogy, Cyberwarfare Is Utterly New – Bringsjord and Licato

‘In our second review, we have looked at ‘By Disanalogy, Cyberwarfare Is Utterly New’ written by Selmer Bringsjord and John Licato in Philosophy & Technology, 2015, Vol.28(3), pp.339358

The paper is available here.

Here is the abstract:

We provide an underlying theory of argument by disanalogy, in order to employ it to show that cyberwarfare is fundamentally new (relative to traditional kinetic warfare, and espionage). Once this general case is made, the battle is won: we are well on our way to establishing our main thesis: that Just War Theory itself must be modernized. Augustine and Aquinas (and their predecessors) had a stunningly long run, but today’s world, based as it is on digital information and increasingly intelligent information-processing, points the way to a beast so big and so radically different, that the core of this duo’s insights needs to be radically extended.

Abstract reproduced under license.


Here are the thought of our network members:

Peter Kalu, Lancaster University

The papers’ authors are working on giving computing machines including robots the ability to reason analogically. They argue that Just War Theory cannot provide a worthwhile critique or framework for cyberwarfare because cyberwarfare is utterly new – so new there is no reasoning by analogy possible. Cyberwarfare activity and potential is increasing to the extent that the old JWT paradigms have been left in the dust and arguing by analogy –that the changes are mere wrinkles, that the deep logic of JWT remains good – wastes time. The authors in the article use mathematics in stating their case. The article concludes that, if the disanalogy argument is accepted, this can be the base for working on a new system of ethics for cyberwarfare, or at least to radically overhaul the old thinking embodied in Just War Theory.

I cannot test the authors’ maths as I cannot understand it. However I am not sure it is necessary to understand the maths in order to understand that cyberwarfare forces radical shifts in how war is understood.  Heading into the extreme case of super- intelligent robots, I accept for the purpose of reasoning the authors’ backing of the MiniMaximality principle over the Singularity principle (roughly: mini in terms of robot imagination exceeding human imagination; maxi in terms of brute computing). Their argument as I understand it, places them at odds with the Hyens authors’ conclusions. The severe meltdown of meaning in such terms as ‘war’ and ‘combatant’ and even ‘State’ that the cyberwarfare and its adjuncts has caused inclines me to accept their proposition. My response is to revisit the science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov’s ‘Three Laws of Robotics’ and invite the authors to consider how these “laws” might be updated. Drones may have already rendered Asimov’s laws obsolete:

Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics”:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  1. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  1. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Mike Ryder, Lancaster University

I admit I struggled somewhat with this paper, as it does not make itself easily accessible to a non-expert audience. However the central argument here clearly, is that cyberwarfare is utterly new, and therefore we need a new approach to the theory of Just War. One of the arguments cited by the authors is that the digital world will eventually enshroud everything (352). The problem here, in my mind, is the direct social implication of such an enshrouding. If everything is connected or ‘enshrouded’ by the digital landscape the simplest way to avoid cyber attacks is surely then just to disconnect. Much as the easiest way to avoid a computer virus is not to connect your computer to the internet (and not to plug any unknown device into it), the same applies for technology. I wonder then (with some future gazing) if the direct response we will witness to this digital enshrouding is a counter-movement in which terrorists and indeed armies are forced to take a technological step back – effectively disconnecting from the benefits of the digital world once cyberwarfare reaches a point wherein state-of-the-art weapons are rendered useless? Either way, I certainly agree in principle with the concept of ‘Enshrouding as hogwash’ (355) – though don’t disagree about the overall direction of the piece being that we need to return to the Just War Theory. The only problem, for me, is that the blurring between friend / enemy / criminal is such now that it becomes increasingly difficult to locate and define a fixed enemy, and even harder still to apportion a broader state-led intentionality to, say, a computer hacker working from their bedroom. 

Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University

This paper really poses an important and difficult question: Is cyberwarfare really warfare? This can be difficult to answer, and I think the Tallinn Manual has done a brilliant job. I think a major difficulty in classifying cyber activities is that when most people think of cyber warfare, they think of hacking, spying, and ‘cyber attacks’ that are usually just DDoS attacks putting a website offline. But, those who have research Stuxnet and have future-gazed realise that there is so much more destructive potential in cyber. Rupturing a dam, overheating a nuclear power station, or turning off electricity to major cities are all possible with cyberwarfare. Certainly, actions of such magnitude would normally be an act of war if done via kinetic means, yet the cyber-enemy merely tinkers with data inputs – are they really comparable?

Maybe, this is warfare for the 21st century. After all, do states really want to sell to their public a physical military confrontation with another state where thousands of service personnel might die anymore? It does make sense to some degree to go after critical data rather than bodies. Considering the aim of warfare is to dominate the enemy, and force them to submit to your political will, does it really matter whether that domination might not be in the physical sense?


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