October 19, 2017, 6:45 pm
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Blade Runner blues

It is the year 2019 and Los Angeles is populated with genetically engineered humanoids who are indistinguishable from real people. 

That’s two years from this present. Is the scenario on-track? Perhaps not in the exact mould of the 1982 movie “Blade Runner” but back in 2015 the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires had warned that the battle robots must literally be stopped before they kill us all: “AI (Artificial Intelligence) has great potential to benefit humanity in many ways, and that the goal of the field should be to do so. Starting a military AI arms race is a bad idea, and should be prevented by a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.”

Drones (MQ-9 Reaper), swarm-bots, Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned combat air vehicles, Raytheon Phalanx Close-In Weapon System, Milrem THeMIS ADDER Unmanned Combat Vehicles.

The warning was reiterated last August: “We warmly welcome the decision of the UN’s Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) to establish a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems.”

“Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare. Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”

The open letter to the United Nations was signed by CEOs of robotics companies in Australia, Czech Republic, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, India, Ireland, Iceland, Mexico, South Africa, Spain, Italy, Japan, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, USA, and the Netherlands, among others.

To enhance understanding of the risk-benefit duality of AI and Robotics, the global organization last month had established the first United Nations Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, in The Hague, The Netherlands. The Centre is now monitoring AI and robotics in health, education, energy, economic inclusion, social welfare, and the environment as well as crime prevention, security, stability, justice and other critical areas. [http://www.unicri.it/news/article/2017-09-07_Establishment_of_the_UNICRI]

The newest UN Centre has to address the other warning made last August. Elon Musk had twitted again about the dangers of artificial intelligence on the occasion of the victory of an AI designed by OpenAI over its human competitors in its 1-v-1 games at the International DOTA 2 championships. Defense Of The Ancients 2 is multiplayer online battle arena.

The idea of AI and Robotics is not that new. Jose Rizal wrote of Sisa in this wise: “Like an automaton whose mechanism is breaking, she whirled about rapidly on her heels, then without seeing or thinking of anything ran to hide herself.” [Chapter XXI: The Story of a Mother. The Social Cancer: A Complete English Version of Noli Me Tangere]

In the midst of World War II, Isaac Asimov wrote a short story called “Runaround,” which contained the Three Laws of Robotics: 1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

At the height of the Cold War, Philip K. Dick wrote a novella (“Second Variety”) wherein the killer robots deployed by the two warring sides were running out of human targets and thus started to design weapons to use against each other.

During the Vietnam War: “The Japanese took an early lead in robotics because they paid attention to demographics. Everyone in the developed countries around 1970 or so knew that there was both a baby bust and an education explosion going on; about half or more of the young people were staying in school beyond high school. Consequently, the number of people available for traditional blue-collar work in manufacturing was bound to decrease and become inadequate by 1990. Everyone knew this, but only the Japanese acted on it, and they took a ten-year lead in robotics.” [Peter F. Drucker. “Systematic Innovation Using Windows of Opportunity.” Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. Revised Edition. NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2008, p. 401]

In the 1990s, Gibson depicted “hallucinatory spaces in which robots, androids, mutants, cyborgs and AIs constantly interact with phantoms, vampires, centaurs and voodoo spirits.” [Dani Cavallaro. Cyberpunk And Cyberculture: Science Fiction And The Work Of William Gibson. London: The Athlone Press, 2000, p. 207]

“And here we are, moving on into a glorious new century where robots will soon surround us on every side. Will they be Asimovian robots or Dickian robots?” [Non-Asimovian Robots
by Robert Silverberg, 2015]

Be that as it may, in this 21st century: “Our carefully engineered high-tech sneakers were not being produced by intelligent cyborgs or self-replicating molecular nanotechnology; they were being made on the equivalent of old-fashioned Singer sewing machines, by the daughters of Mexican and Indonesian farmers who, as the result of WTO or NAFTA– sponsored trade deals, had been ousted from their ancestral lands.” [David Graeber, Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit, March 2012]

Shall we commiserate with Roy Batty, model number N6MAA10816, leader of the renegade Nexus-6 replicants, whose death lament became a classic: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”
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