The Ethics of Drones: Applying the Core Curriculum to a Career in Military Intelligence

Headshot of student.

Karina Barao, RWU Class of 2021

Majors:  Political Science + Economics
Minor:  Modern Languages

Karina Barao ’21 never would have guessed that a required Core Curriculum course would lead her to a new passion and a potential career path. 

Core 104: Literature, Philosophy, and the Examined Life, is one of five interdisciplinary core courses that all RWU students take. These courses explore questions like, Who am I? What can I know? And based on what I know, how should I act?” 

In Barao’s case, the course she took with Professor of Philosophy Christina Rawls allowed her to branch out from her majors and minor and see the world through a new, yet related, lens. She learned about topics such as ethical decision making, consciousness, metaphysics and abstractions.

“Core curriculum is so very important for our students to learn about who they are, where they live, why community is important, and how to better understand what it is to be a rational, creative, & caring person within our democracy,” says Rawls.

Not only did this course give Barao new ways of thinking but her budding interest in ethics led her to apply for an internship with the U.S. Naval War College in Newport RI this summer.  It’s here that she began to see how her academic studies could impact important societal issues. 

Barao works with Dr. Thomas Creely, director of the Ethics of Emerging Technology Graduate Certificate Program. This is a competitive program for military officials, intelligence officers and international officials. Barao’s role is to conduct research and work one-on-one with the candidates in the class. 

“The research I do assesses disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, human enhancement and drones and the ethical implications of those emerging technologies,” says Barao. “Through my research, especially regarding drones and AI. I was amazed by how much ethical decision making correlated with the philosophical concepts I learned in Dr. Rawls’ class last year.” 

Having had experience discussing these topics, Barao was well-equipped to help the graduate candidates through the course and contribute to important findings in the field of military technology ethics. 

“Many of the papers I do research for contribute to projects for the Department of Defense Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence and the Defense Innovation Board," she says. "To know that my research is being read by officials in these agencies and organizations is so rewarding and fulfilling."

Though Barao always knew she wanted to make an impact on the world, she did not know exactly what path her career would take. She has enjoyed this internship so much that she is continuing her work with the U.S. Naval War College this year and next. Being able to apply her coursework to such an important real-world cause has been eye-opening, both for her own learning, and in determining a future career path. 

“It’s really fascinating, the things that I’m learning that I never knew about,” said Barao. “I was never really interested in military intelligence before this and then I started working here and I decided the CIA or the NSA is where I see myself being in 10 years.”