SCIOPS 01.08 : Robots With Guns
Hey, it’s Max again, with your regular update on the Future Now. This week: exactly what it sounds like on the tin!
I attended a panel on Friday called “Luxury For All”, featuring sci-fi writer Nisi Shawl and academic whiteboys Nick Srnicek and Jason Smith, part of Seattle’s
Red May , a month-long festival that asks us to “imagine that the market is not the solution to the problems the market creates.”
The panel was interesting enough, although I would have liked to hear more sci-fi and less acadamese. While Shawl had some really juicy ideas to share, Smith and Srcinek both stayed safely in the realm of “oh noe the robots are finally coming for our white-collar jobs! what ever shall we do? let me vomit statistics while smirking, that will surely enlighten the plebians!” They didn’t go anywhere near the truly freaky parts of the robot future.
As a fleshy human on the street, the prospect of Automated Unemployment is troubling. Yes, the jobs lost will be predominately those of already-marginalized communities. Yes, the surplus value created through automation goes to the boss’s wallet and not to the workers. And yes, the pressure created by all those unemployed job-seekers drives down the wages on your overworked job anyway. But that’s not the scariest part of the robot future.
The scary part is when the robots have guns.
There’s lots of good sci-fi on this – Robocop, obviously, and Terminator and Minority Report, just for the most visible pop culture references. The experienced reality of robots with guns is not just troubling, it is terrifying. But that’s what the military and police forces of the world want more than anything, and they’ve got the money to make it happen.
If the legitimacy of extractive robber-baron capitalism is based on the legitimacy of the sovereign nation-state, and the legitimacy of the nation-state is built on the monopoly of force, what happens when force is automated?
“Predictive policing” can tell the robots where to look for crime – with biased inputs, of course, from our already-biased “justice” system. Flying or driving drones with Lethal Autonomous Weapons (LAWS) can be dispatched by AI prediction systems to “interface” with “likely criminals”, using models scanned from the brains of human soldiers to decide when to shoot. The data of infinite cameras can be collated into a massive real-time model of who’s doing what to whom, when and where, and how they can be “neutralized”. It can all happen on autopilot – in fact, given the opacity of deep-learning models, humans can’t even know why the machine makes the choices it does.
We are building a world-spanning death machine, and leaving the controls in the hands of the same psychopaths who have ruined our planet and oppressed our people. Worse, nobody knows how it works or how to stop it. And if a superintelligence should arise, hacking this murder-machine will be all it needs to control the entire planet.
Is there any hope for humanity under such a system? I see two:
1) Transparent Society – As David Brin suggested in his book of the same name (and consistently writes about on his excellent blog ) the surveillance state could be replaced with one of “sousveillance”, where everyone watches everybody. If the body cameras, security cameras, and drone cameras were all public access 24/7, we might see a different distribution of power. This is reminiscent of the Occupy chant, “The Whole World is Watching!” From Rodney King to Michael Brown, abuses of power can be confronted by publicizing them. The Scout.ai article linked below goes way deep on this tip.
2) Freelance Militias – Unemployed taxi drivers and factory workers are one thing. Unemployed police, soldiers and mercenaries are another. If the economics of automation hits the enforcement sector the way it has hit others, the first people to lose their jobs will be the grunts. High-turnover positions (like mercenaries and security guards) will fall, then beat cops and enlisted soldiers. Officers and spooks will keep their jobs, of course, and drone pilots and other technically skilled positions. But if robots and AI can do the dirty work without food, sleep, or health insurance, why keep paying the cannon fodder? Obviously this scenario could be very bad: private security forces, libertarian protection rackets, and corporate CEOs raking profits from the blood of cheap mercenary labor. But it offers the prospect of highly disciplined, trained fighters with a grudge against robots and a lot of free time. That might be just what we need, if we’re to survive a hostile takeover by robots with guns.
Here’s some further reading on the revolution of warfare:
#### Taser Will Use Police Body Camera Videos “to Anticipate Criminal Activity”
#### Killer Robots and the Many Ways in Which AI Could Go Wrong
#### Should The Future of Policing Look Like This?
And if you made it this far, a special treat. Classically trained musician Tessa Lena has released a new album, especially relevant for today’s issue:
#### Tessa Fights Robots
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Thanks for reading.