Saturday, February 07, 2015

Maybe There Should Be A Law Against Burning People Alive

Wired has an article about autonomous military robots and how they could be programmed to kill people without a human in the loop. They're not talking about guided missiles which do that already, but drones and odds and ends like that. In the article, they posit a typically postmodern Western solution to the problem. Laws.
Military drones like the Predator currently are controlled by humans, but Gariepy says it wouldn’t take much to make them fully automatic and autonomous. That worries him. A lot. “The potential for lethal autonomous weapons systems to be rolled off the assembly line is here right now,” he says, “but the potential for lethal autonomous weapons systems to be deployed in an ethical way or to be designed in an ethical way is not, and is nowhere near ready.”

For Gariepy, the problem is one of international law, as well as programming. In war, there are situations in which the use of force might seem necessary, but might also put innocent bystanders at risk. How do we build killer robots that will make the correct decision in every situation? How do we even know what the correct decision would be?
In the comments lives another lovely postmodern Western idea: moral equivalence.
Commenter 1: A human still tells them what to destroy, even if they self pilot. Allowing a robot to decide what to kill is just a bad idea. Imagine if someone built a small swarm of flying robots, then programmed them to kill as many people as possible. That is the kind of horror this could unleash if the bad guys use it...
Commenter 2: Remind me again, who are the "bad" guys...?
Finally, there is this lovely bit of postmodern Western effluvium - paranoid, universal accusations of racism.
Commenter 3: ... And from among "US citizens":
"Black" == "Human"; return 0
"Activist" == "Human"; return 0
"Journalist" == "Human; return 0
"Al Bundy" == "Human"; return 1
If "human" == 0; kill and plant a gun.
ISIS just killed a POW by burning him alive. They recorded it and posted it on the Internet. No one questions whether it happened or who did it. In spite of this, we still talk about "laws" as if they had some authority and question the righteousness of our position. We ponder robotic killing machines, yet we don't consider what might happen if they were deployed by people who incinerate captives for fun.

Sometimes I think we're going to lose this war out of sheer ennui.

Sir Charles James Napier. When confronted in India with a crowd ready to burn a widow out of native custom, he replied, "Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs."

He lived in a time of national customs, poor chap.

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