killer robots in the uncanny valley

Recently, 1,ooo leading artificial intellegence experts and researchers  signed an open letter calling for a ban on the development of  “offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.”  The letter was released at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Initial signatories included Tesla’s Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Google DeepMind chief executive Demis Hassabis and professor Steven Hawking.  Since then, the number of signatories has approached 20,000.

The letter focusses on autonomous weapons – that is those over which humans have no “meaningful control”.

Autonomous weapons select and engage targets without human intervention. They might include, for example, armed quadcopters that can search for and eliminate people meeting certain pre-defined criteria, but do not include cruise missiles or remotely piloted drones for which humans make all targeting decisions.

The crucial dimension setting AW’s apart from other highly technological/cybernetic weapons such as drones and cruise missiles is the automated selection and engagement of targets.  In 2013,  Human Rights Watch in its report Losing Humanity provided a somewhat expanded version outlining the difference between autonomous weapons and others:

Unmanned technology possesses at least some level of autonomy, which refers to the ability of a machine to operate without human supervision. At lower levels, autonomy can consist simply of the ability to return to base in case of a malfunction. If a weapon were fully autonomous, it would “identify targets and … trigger itself.” Today’s robotic weapons still have a human being in the decision-making loop, requiring human intervention before the weapons take any lethal action. The aerial drones currently in operation, for instance, depend on a person to make the final decision whether to fire on a target.

Continue reading “killer robots in the uncanny valley”

Another Sky Burial

While the spring migrating turkey vultures have passed through some time ago, and the fall migrators have yet to arrive, a resident population remains.  In this area there are plenty of woods for them to roost in.  So, now, in the interregnum,  I mainly see them patrolling suburbia far in the sky.

A few years ago, our friends Peter and Valerie bought several undeveloped lots up the street from us.   The house they built left plenty of space leftover, now forming  a cryptoforest  (“the only nature that does not need protecting”) that interrupts the chemically mediated grass gardens surrounding it.

And in this cryptoforest be vultures. Continue reading “Another Sky Burial”

Thunderstorm

A lot of rain here the past few weeks, although mostly showers and “Euclidean rain”  (that phrase from Scott Bakker’s evocative post The Lesser Sound and Fury).  Here the trees are close in and it can be difficult to really appreciate a good storm.

So Scott’s piece reminded me of when we lived on the other side of the valley –  in a former creamery on top of a hill above a bend in the Susquehanna River.  Thunderstorms would come down the valley from the west. Sitting in Adirondack chairs in the front lawn, 800 feet above the valley , we would watch each storm come toward us.  The blur of rain and hail falling from the thunderhead’s floor, sometimes, for a while below where we sat, the visibility of the full height of the cumulonimbus cloud, the advancing thunder, the ionized air, terrified and thrilled us until, in  a panic, we would run into the building, itself barely more than a ruin, that seemed in those moments, a place of safety.