Ethical Robot Killers

April 12, 2009

predatorThe news that the military is working on killer drones that will operate autonomously was in the news again recently. Y’know, like none of us have seen this coming. Or that entire movies franchises haven’t been built off of this plot. Is anyone really surprised? The military, of course, is talking about how such machines will be programmed with a set of robot ethics, so that they don’t get in trouble for killing the wrong people, or say, someone trying to surrender. We all trust the military, right?

Jamais Cascio addresses the issue more concretely with a draft set of his own Laws of Robotics. These are a good start, noting both that humans are ultimately responsible for robot behaviors and actions and that we need to consider that robots are going to increasingly become more *like* humans. Also of importance is that these robots will also be programmed in accordance with dominant social customs and norms:

Law #2: Politics Matters
The First Law has a couple of different manifestations. At a broad, social level, the question of consequences comes down to politics–not in the partisan sense, but in the sense of power and norms. The rules embedded into an autonomous or semi-autonomous system come from individual and institutional biases and norms, and while that can’t really be avoided, it needs to be acknowledged. We can’t pretend that technologies–particularly technologies with a level of individual agency–are completely neutral.

These are not just issues and concerns that we should be applying to those in power. Increasingly, robots and drones will be proliferate and become accessible to others — including anarchists. If a tech savvy anarchist insurgency was to employ its own drones, say to assassinate capitalist leaders or sabotage corporate or military facilities, these issues will also need to be considered and addressed in a careful and principled manner.

More on Anonymous

March 19, 2008

As a quick follow-up to Antisocialite’s post about Anonymous vs. Scientology (he tells me part 2 is coming soon), this brief over at Global Guerrillas summarizes Project Chanology in the context of an open source insurgency. Even more interesting, however, is this reply from a member of Anonymous:

Firstly, Anonymous is an example of viral organisation – there is no centralised leadership, and although there are nodes of organisation, these are dynamic – if one goes down or is taken down, others compensate with little damage done to the utility of the network as a whole. Organisation and decisions are made through what I would term “viral consensus” – the facts, questions and opinions are disseminated throughout the network by it’s users, the most successful or popular of these possible courses of action are therefore repeated more often and gain traction – mutations to the idea occur and those that are popular flourish. As such, there are no leaders to attack – whilst there may be some individuals who are more visible (such as Mark Bunker) they are not essential-, no easily-accisble points of failure. Indeed, the only thing that would severely disrupt the insurgency as a whole is internal factional problems – which are near-impossible for an outsider to predict or cause due to the shibboleths John mentions; or a total disruption of the internet as a whole.

Secondly, the initial campaign of DDOS and internet insurgency can be seen as an example of the internet as an enabling force – most members of anonymous are not hackers or computer security experts, but the information available on how to conduct operations such as DDOS attacks etc is readily available on the internet, and can be spread concisely and practically throughout the group itself through other networking tools (IRC, message boards, forums, p2p). However, the interesting thing in particular about the methodology of anonymous is that it is intensely adaptable – when the opinions of Mark Bunker that the illegal aspects of anonymous actions (DDOS etc) were tactically efficient but strategically detrimental entered the viral consciousness, the methodology drastically changed – to real life protests organised over a number of countries, and to information dissemination tactics aimed at the public.


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