Never Give Robots Guns

Never give robots guns. Guns are for killing. Robots can’t make analogue decisions and those are the only ones that should ever control the taking of the life of another person. Robots make quantised decisions, not analogue ones. The quanta reflect the programming, and the programming arises from the approximation  and modelling of a human view.

When a technologist embodies their or their employer’s view of what’s fair into a technology, any potential for the exercise of discretion is turned from a scale to a step and humanity is quantised. That quantisation of discretion always serves the interest of the person forcing the issue.

Calls for better robots that make better judgement calls are misguided and pointless. A robot that can successfully make life-or-death decisions is a piece of bad science fiction. Any technology that attempts to perform human judgement quantises discretion and inherently dehumanises culture. That technology should never have a weapon.

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Background reading

[Microsoft]: http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/194338-here-come-the-autonomous-robot-security-guards-what-could-possibly-go-wrong
[Halting]: https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/halting-problem-proves-that-a-lethal-robot-cannot-correctly-decide-whether-to-kill-a-human-7c014623c13f
[3-Laws]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Laws_of_Robotics
[Goedel]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6del%27s_incompleteness_theorems
[Motherboard]: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/how-the-pentagons-skynet-would-automate-war
[DoD]: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=123651
[DoD-Paper]: http://ctnsp.dodlive.mil/files/2014/09/DTP1061.pdf
[Moratorium]: http://phys.org/news/2013-05-moratorium-killer-robots.html


[Onion]: http://www.theonion.com/articles/new-law-enforcement-robot-can-wield-excessive-forc,36220/

Blue Lights

Child me lit up for blue lights, wanted to ride them,
saw the freedom to break rules and drive fast.
Missed that they’re arrest lights – police and cardiac;
find fear; lose liberty; run away with life.

I don’t want to ride the blue lights any more.
Blue is for skies and ribbons, for eyes and summer dresses.
The blue lights drain colour from our faces;
presage loss; predict shorter life; pin sadness in each flash.

I don’t want to ride the blue lights any more
and I don’t want you to either.

 

April 9, 2017

Will You Become A Patron?

Is the answer to the “gig economy” patronage? I hope to find out using Patreon!

Turning silver into gold

The Gig Economy

We’re moving more and more into what’s called the “gig economy”, where instead of a single, full-time, lifetime-long job, people engage in multiple activities. It’s certainly what I have been doing for the last few years; consulting on open source, serving on the boards of a variety of civil society organisations, arranging and conducting study tours, writing for several publications, writing on my own sites, speaking at events and more. Few of those have been paid work. Continue reading

Winter Music

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If you’d like some music for the dark nights (& days) that’s not so “traditional”, try these albums:

More album recommendations welcome!

How To Safeguard Surveillance Laws

This letter was published in the London Evening Standard on January 12th, 2015:

I watch with alarm as, in the wake of the barbaric murders in France, politicians seek increased surveillance powers for the security services.

Surveillance is not always wrong; far from it, our democracy has long allowed accountable public servants to temporarily intrude on individuals they believe to be a threat.

My alarm arises for two reasons:

  • The powers requested in recent attempts at new law are open-ended and ill-defined. They lack meaningful oversight, transparency or accountability. They appear designed to permit the security services free rein in making their own rules and retrospectively justifying their actions.
  • The breadth of data gathered – far beyond the pursuit of individuals – creates a risk of future abuse, by both (inevitable) bad actors and people responding to future moral panic. Today’s justifications – where offered – make no accommodation for these risks.

Voters should listen respectfully but critically to the security services’ requests. Our representatives must ensure that each abridgement of our liberties is ring-fenced:

  • justified objectively using public data,
  • governed with impartial oversight, and
  • guarded by a sunset clause for both the powers and all their data by-products.

If the defence of free speech fatally abrades other liberties we are all diminished.

Yours faithfully

Simon Phipps

Careless Stereotyping

Ramadan LanternsI’ve been privileged to travel widely, and have had conversations with educated people in several countries where Islam is the norm. On one visit to the Levant, one of my acquaintances made statements starting “Christians should…”. I was taken aback. After all, what characteristic do all Christians have in common?

When you eliminate all the doctrines that are contested, balance for those who support right- and left-wing politics, allow for two millennia of schisms and state co-option and factor the micro-fragmentation of the protestant portion of Christendom, the only thing left in common is the syllable “Christ”. I realised the term was being used as shorthand for a stereotype, embracing everyone far away in the western world, summarising a set of sketchy facts mixed with biases and misunderstandings.

So when we in the west who are not adherents to Islam speak of “Muslims”, who are we talking about? We are doing the same thing my acquaintance in the Levant did; taking countless unfamiliar people who we consider “different” and tagging them with a word that doesn’t mean much to us but does allow the application of a stereotype.

More than that, it’s a bad stereotype. Just like calling everyone in the western world “Christian”, I have a problem with the attribution of any motive or collective responsibility to the 1.6 billion people who actually are Muslims, or of a unified strategy by the 49 countries where they are the majority, let alone to the others caught up in the stereotype’s dragnet (many of whom are in fact Christians, as well as other religions).

To say “Muslims should…” is to immediately use an impossible generalisation, to invoke a stereotype, to validate the rhetoric of discrimination and to indicate unfamiliarity with people who might fall into the classification (as well as to covertly engage in ignorant proselytism as some of the conversations I’ve followed this weekend illustrated).

How can discussion of a statement that starts something like “Muslims should…” by people who are not Muslims do anything other than harm? Given the number of people, of countries, who are tarred with that brush, certainly nothing actionable could arise from it. That’s why, when I hear people ascribing actions or motivations to “Muslims”, I now respond: “which Muslims, where, and how do you know?”

Responding to terrorism

charlie

I am appalled and horrified by the wicked and murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Settling scores with violence is the recourse of ignorant, cowardly barbarians – lower than animals. I am heartbroken for every person affected.

This was without doubt intended as an act of terrorism. But I refuse to be terrorised and decline the opportunity to hate. What does that mean practically? Terrorism is like a pernicious auto-immune disease to which it is easy to succumb. It seeks to provoke us into destroying ourselves.

  • To respond with attempts to make society less open is to succumb.
  • To respond with advocacy for or against religion is to succumb.
  • To respond with hatred of anything except terrorism is to succumb.
  • To respond by advocating racism and disrespect for anyone is to succumb.
  • To blame the victims is to succumb.

We should respond to this act of hate, which is as indefensible to anyone who embraces one of the world’s religions as to those who reject them all, by ensuring we do not succumb to the self-destructive reactions perpetrators of terrorism want to provoke. The best response is to strengthen the open, fair and tolerant society that terrorism seeks to destroy.

[This formed the seed for my column in InfoWorld]

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