“Killer robots should be banned…” But I want one!

November 20, 2012

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The Terminator – coming to a war zone near you!

 Human Rights Watch has released a 50-page report on the subject of “fully autonomous weapons” that could kill without any human interaction required – in other words, killer robots, like Arnie in The Terminator.  And surprise surprise, the report (catchily entitled Losing Humanity: the Case Against Killer Robots) says that they should be banned – now, before anyone pours too much money into such a project.

“Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far,” said Steve Goose, the HRW arms division director. “Human control of robotic warfare is essential to minimising civilian deaths and injuries.”  The robot would have to make ethical judgements as well as tactical and strategic decisions: for instance, are some civilian casualties acceptable weighed against the battle outcome.  At the moment these kind of decisions are made by human officers on the battle ground.  But can a computer be fully capable?

And then there’s the scenario of a malfunctioning robot soldier.  Do we really want to risk having a heavily armed killer robot running amok?

There are already basic semi-automous weapons systems already in use – for instance the drone aircraft that are famous for firing hellfire missiles at innocent Afghan wedding parties, and the Phalanx CIWS (Close-In Weapons System) that is used to protect ships from missiles. And in December 2010, the South Korean firm DoDAAM unveiled the Super aEgis II  an automated turret-based weapon platform that uses thermal imaging to lock onto human-sized targets up to 3km away. It is able to function during nighttime and regardless of weather conditions . No one has yet created a robot soldier, but several countries are actively looking into the subject, such as the US, China, Germany, Israel, South Korea, Russia and Britain.  The HRW report claims that experts believe operative machines could be ready in 20 years if not sooner.  And who knows what is going on in top secret defence projects?  They’re not called “top secret” for nothing.

So the report recommends that international treaties banning these kinds of weapons should be banned now, before any country gets too involved in such a project – no government wants to scrap a project that it’s already invested billions of dollars into.

“It is essential to stop the development of killer robots before they show up in national arsenals,” Steve Goose said. “As countries become more invested in this technology, it will become harder to persuade them to give it up.”

But it’s hard to see this idea stay unexplored.  Automation is invading everyday life – why shouldn’t it be used on the battlefield?  I can certainly imagine the robot soldier being sold to the public as a way to avoid seeing our boys coming home in body bags.  But what will it be like for the people who are on the front line: not just soldiers, but the people who actually live in the war zone?  Mistakes are made by human soldiers – what could a fritzed Terminator be capable of?

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PCC Elections – Spoil Your Ballot!!!

November 6, 2012

If you live in England or Wales, you might be interested in a jolly good wheeze dreamt up by some pinheaded sod in Westminster:

On 15 November 2012, in the first ever elections, 41 new police and crime commissioners will be elected across England and Wales to give you a say when it comes to cutting crime in your area [link]

Remember, I said you might be interested. But probably not. I mean, it hasn’t been big prime-time news, has it?

So, some fool has come up with this daft idea of elected “police and crime commissioners”. No one cares. So forget it. Move on. Right?

Wrong. This PCC idea is dangerous stuff. It’s going to make policing policy even more of a political issue, commissioners with party political affiliations are going to control even more of what the police do. And it’s being imposed on us, despite what the government say about “elections”.

We need the government know how horrific an idea this is. And one good way to put the point across is to wait til 15 November then spoil your ballot. Exactly how you do it is up to you; I personally will scribble out all the candidates’ names, write “NONE OF THE ABOVE” in big letters, before I drop it disparagingly into the ballot box. And then I’ll go home, hoping that everyone else has done the same.

Some people think spoiling ballots wastes votes. Some people think it legitimises the whole thing, refusing to vote at all is best.

I disagree. When spoilt ballots are collected, they are shown to candidates to agree the ballot is actually spoilt. Which means the candidates will get to see whatever you wrote on the paper. Also, spoilt ballots are counted and announced as (surprise surprise) “spoilt ballots”. So it will be clear what kind of proportion of the voters disagree with this entire farce.

Here are some links, to give you more food for thought: [link] [link] (yeah I know some of you will think “agh more Guardian shite”, but read it anyway. Especially the comments. Then you’ll start to see how many people, of all political types, see ballot-spoiling as the way to go. Spoil Your Ballot!!!

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