The Drone of Drones in Perpetual War

December 28, 2011

Just read The Future of Moral Machines  here.

“… as machines with limited autonomy operate more often than before in open environments, it becomes increasingly important to design a kind of functional morality that is sensitive to ethically relevant features of those situations.”

If that doesn’t sound like a load of the self-appeasing bullshit we humans have been feeding ourselves since Cain killed Abel I don’t know what does.

What, exactly, is ethically relevant about a Starbucks-sipping guy sitting in an air-conditioned facility in southern California firing drone-delivered missiles at houses occupied by who knows how many innocent people —maybe blowing whole families to bits— then heading home to have a bucket of Kentucky Fried with his wife and kids without even risking a broken arm or two!? What kind of functional morality is that? Is that the sort of automatic morality we want to program into drones?

Having been, at best, partially successful (after millenia) in establishing a decent human morality you have to wonder who’ll be designing a “functional morality” for machines, and to what end.

Now that it’s likely that drones will be employed  inside the U.S. to keep aliens out you have to wonder what rubbery concoctions of constitutional logic and human moral design will be employed to make it acceptable to use drones to keep citizens in as well, and to keep them docile. North Korea has done it without drones; imagine what we can accomplish with our wealth and mad mixture of Microsoft and Machievelli. Throw into the mix an all-purpose excuse for every kind of anti-constitutional excess; the useful rationale that’s been dropped into the laps of the all the potential Hitlers and Husseins chomping at the bit: The Perpetual War  (a la Orwell’s classic—a delightfully lucrative war for militarists and their industrial complex; namely, the War On Terror!— yes, throw in perpetual fear and war and you’ve got the stuff of terrible moral design, for machines or otherwise. Embed that morality in camera-packed drones operating out of airstrips in Topeka or Tallahassee and you have an American North Korea. Load it with crowd-control munitions and you have a blooming American Afghanistan.

Do I exaggerate?  I don’t think so.  The same minds that developed the tools, techniques and strategies to keep Americans safe from foriegn terrorists will have the same inclination to keep us safe from the domestic variety.

During this past fall’s Occupy Wall Street protests Republican Eric Cantor had this to say:

“I, for one, am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country”

Turning gatherings of Americans who are protesting their economic system’s designed mechanism for sending the fruits of their work and lives upstream to collect in reservoirs of the rich into “mobs” is as easy as turning a phrase.  From a “mob” into a “mob of terrorists” is a short step for those prone to take it.  It’s then a short hop from prone to drone (but drones with a “functional morality”, of course. Drones that are “sensitive to ethically relavant features of situations.”)

And Cantor’s not the voice of one crying in the wilderness.  His voice is the wilderness; he and his fellow free-market conservative Republican mouthpieces are wildernesses of the bleakest, most threatening kind: Frank Luntz, “I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort”; Karl Rove: “What are these people for? To the degree that they’re for anything, it’s left-wing nuttiness…”; Mitt Romney: “I think it’s dangerous, this class warfare.”

And so inequity goes …and grows. We haven’t even developed a functional morality for our economic system, how can we hope that we’ll have the will and way to design one for machines under the control of those who increasingly dictate the conditions of our lives?

by Jim Culleny
for The Greenfield Recorder




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