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.

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The Ephemeral Cyborg


The Szpilman Award is awarded to works that exist only for a moment or a short period of time.
The purpose of the award is to promote such works whose forms consist of ephemeral situations.  Szpilman Award

I first became aware of the Szpilman Award a couple of years ago. I found the concept interesting but up until now haven’t been able to organize myself to execute a project for it, and to then submit an application.  First prize includes a 10 day trip to Cimochowizna, Poland, a village in a Polish national park.

Saturday, I sent in my application based on my recent Post #74.

The selection of past winners of the Award have shown the jury to be every bit the quirky bunch one might expect in such a project.  So any application constitutes an improbability at the outset.

Adding to this for me and my poor damaged brain, making such a trip would entail managing a sensory assault and overload I can barely imagine. It could only result from the realization of a set of cascading improbabilities that in itself would result in an example of the ephemeral sublime.

This element of sublimity is missing from the Szpliman description, yet it is implicit as the defining feature of art that is eligible for the award.

After all, to the extent that anything exists, it exists ephemerally.  In past posts, I’ve discussed the Buddhist presentation of Emptiness.  The causes and conditions supporting an object or process are all always changing, are ephemeral, as is their result – the object or process.

The view-point and the time scale one uses in considering something determines whether it seems to exist for a long or short time.  Seen from the perspective of cosmic time, all of human existence is ephemeral.

The implicit presence of this kind of time scale as backdrop is what makes the “short time” of the ordinary sense of ephemeral mean something worth mentioning at all.

I wonder, for example how much of the experience of the users of ephemeral social media includes some sense of the sublime.  Does a cyborg using Snapchat experience a glimpse of cosmic time hitting Send?

About Mushrooms

In a previous post,  I described the events leading up to my grandfather telling me, “You have to understand about mushrooms.”  Learning recently about Charles McIlvaine, I recognized something of my grandfather in him.  Both, I think, trusted his own experience to a degree that would ordinarily seem to result in an early death, only to have it validated.

He served in the Union Army for two years, rising to become a Captain. (Here is a point of difference between the two.  My grandfather came to America in part to avoid service in the Polish army.)

I found no account of his next 17 years.  Another similarity to my grandfather perhaps – a certain mystery about where he was and what he was doing.  At that point McIlvaine moved to West Virginia.  This is his account of what happened.

A score of years ago (1880-1885) I was living in the mountains of West Virginia. While riding on horseback through the dense forests of that great unfenced state, I saw on every side luxuriant growths of fungi, so inviting in color, cleanliness and flesh that it occurred to me they ought to be eaten. I remembered having read a short time before this inspiration seized me, a very interesting article in the Popular Science Monthly for May, 1877, written by Mr. Julius A. Palmer, Jr., entitled “ Toadstool eating.” Hunting it up I studied it carefully, and soon found myself interested in a delightful study, which was not without immediate reward. Up to this time I had been living, literally, on the fat of the land – bacon; but my studies enabled me to supplement this, the staple dish of the state, with a vegetable luxury that centuries ago graced the dinners of the Caesars. So absorbing did the study become from gastronomic, culinary, and scientific points of view, that I have continued it ever since, with thorough intellectual enjoyment and much gratification of appetite as my reward. I hope to interest students in the study as I am myself interested.

For twenty years my little friends – the toadstools – have been my constant companions. They have interested me, delighted me, feed me, and I have found much pleasure in making the public acquainted with their habits, structure, lusciousness and food value.

Charles McIlvaine “ OneThousand American Fungi”

McIlvaine’s method for leaning about mushrooms included eating hundreds of species of them.  The ediblity and poisoness of many of these were not known at the time.  His nickname came to be “Ole Ironguts”.

My grandfather came to America when he was 16.  I don’t know what education he had there.  His family was well off, so I’m sure whe went to school.  But from the rough jobs he had in this country, I’m fairly sure his formal education stopped in Poland.  Maybe he began to learn the ways of the forest there.  Because of the way he talked about “the woods” I’m sure though, that his knowledge came from extensive personal obsevation and experimentaton.

If you ever drank his coffee you would know he deserved the name “Ole Ironguts” as well.