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”

Disabled Cyborgs In Space

Donna Haraway’s ironic, binary busting cyborg has deeply influenced the study of the relationship between the human and the technological since she published A Cyborg Manifesto in 1985.  Providing a template for  her cyborg was the 1961 paper by Nathan S. Kline and Manfred Clynes  (K&C)  Drugs, Space and Cybernetics: Evolution to Cyborgs.

K&C’s purpose was to find a path to a space-exploring society unencumbered by the technologically unmediated bodies of “man” poorly evolved to living in a vacuum.

Haraway repurposed this to theorize the path to a feminist-liberatory society unencumbered by  technologically unmediated  female bodies poorly evolved to living in the patriarchy.  She redefined “cyborg” as a hybrid  made to live not in outer space but in the space of social reality. Continue reading “Disabled Cyborgs In Space”

The Reasonable Cyborg

The speculative turn here can lead me to omit from my discussions the high quality blogging I read by more Reasonable Cyborgs.  I call them reasonable not because I necessarily agree with each of them, but because of their approach.  Generally, a Reasonable Cyborg writes in a continuum from an informed illustration of a trend to a contribution meant to help to solve the challenge the ubiquitous coding of earth presents.

For the most part, they are doing something different from me, but their work is relevant here, covering ground I mostly neglect. Reasonableness goes beyond mere practicality, to include a  vision of the human/technology relationship quite different from what I discuss here.

Continue reading “The Reasonable Cyborg”

The Nomadic Cyborg

I have conceptualized here the cyborg in Haraway-ian fashion, as hybrid of the human and the cybernetic, the machinic, the algorithmic.  I have suggested that these partners to the human have a kind of agency that left unexamined is likely to lead to humans misunderstanding their relationship with the machinic. I have let Prof Haraway speak for herself in cautioning against “the solace of human exceptionalism”.

Somehow this seems still a half measure.  Somehow the human almost always seems the senior partner in the hybridization.  The cell phone, the internet of coffee makers, cars, consumer artifacts of every description, the vast extractive enterprises leveling mountains for a few tons of gold, rare earth metals, copper, the semi-autonomous war machines, manufacturing complexes seem somehow, even with a rampant speculative turn here, augmentation.  That is augmentation to the vivid subjet-ivity of human consciousness which experiences each iteration of the machinc as individual, driving nothing from their networked existence, existing only as cell phone, coffee makers, extraction and manufacturing. Continue reading “The Nomadic Cyborg”

The Geopoetic Cyborg

Taken as an invitation to geopoetry, the effort to rename the current geological epoch from Holocene to Anthopocene is also an invitation to speculate, to  forgo in Donna Haraway’s phrase, “the solace in human exceptionalism”.  In the space opened by such a turn, perhaps a glimmer of something else can form, perhaps as she suggests, an ethical reworlding. Continue reading “The Geopoetic Cyborg”

Cyborgs on Edge

Since 1998 the digital magazine Edge has asked a question to a variety of accomplished people designed to contribute to discussions about issues facing humanity.  The overall project of Edge is to promote a “third culture” which  “consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are.”

Edge generally poses these questions in a way open to a very wide net of interpretations and provocations.   This year’s question is:

2015 : WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK? Continue reading “Cyborgs on Edge”