Pentagon: A Human Will Always Decide When a Robot Kills You

First Reaper The Pentagon wants to make perfectly clear that every time one of its flying robots releases its lethal payload, it’s the result of a decision made by an accountable human being in a lawful chain of command. Human rights groups and nervous citizens fear that technological advances in autonomy will slowly lead to the day when robots make that critical decision for themselves. But according to a new policy directive issued by a top Pentagon official, there shall be no SkyNet, thank you very much. Twitter.

Here’s what happened while you were preparing for Thanksgiving: Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter signed, on November 21, a series of instructions to “minimize the probability and consequences of failures” in autonomous or semi-autonomous armed robots “that could lead to unintended engagements,” starting at the design stage (.pdf, thanks to Cryptome.org). Translated from the bureaucrat, the Pentagon wants to make sure that there isn’t a circumstance when one of the military’s many Predators, Reapers, drone-like missiles or other deadly robots effectively automatizes the decision to harm a human being.

The hardware and software controlling a deadly robot needs to come equipped with “safeties, anti-tamper mechanisms, and information assurance.” The design has got to have proper “human-machine interfaces and controls.” And, above all, it has to operate “consistent with commander and operator intentions and, if unable to do so, terminate engagements or seek additional human operator input before continuing the engagement.” If not, the Pentagon isn’t going to buy it or use it.

It’s reasonable to worry that advancements in robot autonomy are going to slowly push flesh-and-blood troops out of the role of deciding who to kill. To be sure, military autonomous systems aren’t nearly there yet. No Predator, for instance, can fire its Hellfire missile without a human directing it. But the military is wading its toe into murkier ethical and operational waters: The Navy’s experimental X-47B prototype will soon be able to land on an aircraft carrier with the barest of human directions. That’s still a long way from deciding on its own to release its weapons. But this is how a very deadly slope can slip.

It’s that sort of thing that worries Human Rights Watch, for instance. Last week, the organization, among the most influential non-governmental institutions in the world, issued a report warning that new developments in drone autonomy represented the demise of established “legal and non-legal checks on the killing of civilians.” Its solution: “prohibit the “development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons through an international legally binding instrument.”

Laudable impulse, wrong solution, writes Matthew Waxman. A former Defense Department official for detainee policy, Waxman and co-author Kenneth Anderson observe that technological advancements in robotic weapons autonomy is far from predictable, and the definition of “autonomy” is murky enough to make it unwise to tell the world that it has to curtail those advancements at an arbitrary point. Better, they write, for the U.S. to start an international conversation about how much autonomy on a killer robot is appropriate, so as to “embed evolving internal state standards into incrementally advancing automation.”

Libya: Woman struggles to tell foreign journalists of kidnapping, rape by Qaddafi militia

A Libyan woman burst into the hotel housing the foreign press in Tripoli Saturday morning and fought off security forces as she told journalists that she had been raped and beaten by members of the Qaddafi militia. After nearly an hour, she was dragged away from the hotel screaming.” (New York Times)

Her name is Eman al-Obeidy. CNN’s Nic Robertson was present, and his tweeted account is screengrabbed here. “CNN camera was violently snatched, systematically smashed to pieces and video footage stolen,” he wrote. “Some journalists were beaten in blatant display of regime thuggery.”

“Journalists are demanding to see her. David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times and I went to officials in charge who claimed they don’t know who took her, or where she was taken.”

A related Reuters item is here. Above: A related Sky News clip. The UK Telegraph also has video coverage. (via @acarvin).

Will the Harper government receive a #MEGAFACEPALM for C-393?

(FOR BILL C-393 STALLING UPDATES SEE BOTTOM OF POST: LAST UPDATE ON FRI, MARCH 25th) A few weeks ago, I was lecturing during a global issues course (ASIC200), when it became immediately clear that on some occasions, a solitary single facepalm is simply not enough. In fact, there seemed to be many things and events in this world that would merit many many simultaneous facepalms, or as we’ve been calling it in class, a MEGAFACEPALM! Anyway, when I looked it up on the internet, there didn’t seem to be any pictures of large groups of people doing the facepalm, and so I thought, why not make our own? And so after a few clicks on my camera, and a handy “Make your own motivational poster” website, here is how it turned out: megafacepalm.jpg Of course, then the big question was for what occasion should we bestow this honour – this first unaltered photographic MEGAFACEPALM image? Well, I had a chat with the class the other day, and it seemed that the issue of Bill C-393 seemed like a worthy cause. Now, if you’re late to the game and need a primer on this Bill C-393, then read this boingboing post and then come back here for the MEGAFACEPALM lowdown.

Continue reading “Will the Harper government receive a #MEGAFACEPALM for C-393?”

Egypt’s military junta now has an official Facebook page

To better communicate with the internet-savvy youngsters who toppled Hosni Mubarak’s regime, The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has launched an official Facebook page dedicated “to the sons and youth of Egypt who ignited the January 25 revolution and to its martyrs.” Lest you be left with the impression these are happy-fun guys, Amnesty International said today it has found new evidence that this same military has been, and still is, torturing detainees. (AFP)

Bahrain: peaceful protests turn violent as police attack demonstrators

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Breaking: Amira Al Hussaini at Global Voices: “Bahrain police have just launched an attack on protesters at the Pearl Roundabout.” She has a Twitter roundup, and you can also follow NPR’s Andy Carvin right now for fast and furious RTs from people who are there, apparently being teargassed and shot with rubber bullets and/or other forms of ammunition. It is 3AM there; the demonstrators were sleeping; news crews are are nowhere to be found.

(photo, inset, via maryamalkhawaja, above Abu Sufyan, both via @acarvin)

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Egyptian activists’ protest plan, translated to English

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As I publish this blog post, we’re just a few hours away from the planned start time of mass protests in Egypt, possibly the largest yet in a week of historically large gatherings calling for Hosni Mubarak to step down from some 30 years in power. Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic tells Boing Boing,

A Twitter follower stepped up to translate excerpts from the Egyptian protest plan that’s been floating around (the one that said don’t use Twitter or Facebook). We’re only publishing excerpts — i.e. this is more general information and demands, not tactical stuff — but they are amazing.

Translations and scans are here at The Atlantic.

On-duty cop rapes woman, she says; pleads sentence down to one year

I usually don’t post these because of their regularity, but this one really stands out. San Antonio police officer Craig Nash raped a woman while on duty, she said. He faced a life sentence for the felony charges, but he was able to plead that down to a misdemeanor and will serve just one year. Why? I’m sure it’s not because the woman who said he raped her was a transgender sex worker. Reminds me of the Memphis cop who pleaded down to two years after beating the crap out of Duanna Johnson using his handcuffs as brass knuckles. Texas is the worst place in America to be transgender, as evidenced by two widows whose marriages were legally challenged after their husbands’ deaths. Christie Lee Littleton’s marriage was declared illegal after she brought a suit against her dead husband’s doctor. That set the legal precedent for the whole state, which means Nikki Araguz faces an uphill battle after her firefighter husband died on duty last year. Her in-laws are challenging the death benefits she’s entitled to receive.

Official oppression earns ex-cop a year behind bars