UnBrave New World, Campaign to Stop Killer Robots

The world is witnessing the dawn of killer robots that can kill without any further human interaction once launched. Do our leaders have the will or simply the intelligence to stop it happening before it is too late for all of us?

I recently heard about an organisation called Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. CSKR… or CTSKR if you slip in the lower case ‘to.’ At this point some of you faithful readers may be wondering if this month’s post is going to be a bit tongue in cheek. Maybe even about some hit comedy show transferring from this summer’s Edinburgh festival to London’s West End. However, this subject is far from funny and might just be one of the most important issues of our time. Please watch this very short film…

While this short film highlights the dangers quite graphically I hope you would agree that in our increasingly messed-up new world order of rising nationalism, conflict and proxy wars the dangers are all too apparent. Also the preemptive or reactive use of jackboot tactics used by a growing number of world leaders to oppress their own citizens by stamping all over the rule of law by invoking the catch-all of terrorism, means that those with totalitarian leanings or out and out dictators would be using this technology already if it was available. You think not? Just luck at Putin’s role in Syria. To play the big world leader for domestic consumption and cling onto Russia’s only airbase and seaport access in the middle east he has stood by while Bashar al-Assad has systematically murdered hundreds of thousands of his own citizens, which Assad conveniently labelled as terrorists, despite at least a third of them being women and children.

Putin and Assad

The Syrian Army have used any number of weapons banned under international treaties like cluster and barrel bombs. They have even deployed deadly sarin nerve gas on their own people many times. But he always gets away with it because any time an investigation of his horrific war crimes against humanity is opened by the UN, Russia simply deploys its UN Veto to suspend the investigation indefinitely once it becomes clear that Syria will be found culpable. The UN may have once been the world’s biggest hope for a lasting peace after the terrible wars of the 20th century but now it looks more and more useless because of the outdated veto privileges granted at its birth to just 5 countries: Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and United States.

So how effective can any organisation or alliance of countries be at stopping the use of killing robots in the future unless something can be done now? Stewart Russell, who you met at the end of the video is a leading Artificial Intelligence (AI) scientist at the University of California in Berkeley said only this week: “The use of autonomous weapons, such as drones, tanks and automated machine guns, would be devastating for human security and freedom, and the window to halt their devastating development it closing fast.” As you can imagine those in charge of defence budgets have so embraced the idea that this will be the future that the military is already by far the biggest funders and adopters of robot technology. Drones have long been flown remotely for military surveillance and attacks but autonomous armed weapons with target recognition systems, if not already secretly developed are certainly within reach. These weapons will be able to locate and strike without deferring to a human controller.

Handing machines the power over life and death obviously crosses a clear moral line and in an ideal world should be and would be severely restricted or outright banned. But we don’t live in an ideal world and never will so other solutions to prevent the true horror and potential huge human cost of such wars could eventually make the First and Second World Wars look like little more than a squabble among neighbours that got out of hand.

Drone mesh network

Russell also points out: “The technology illustrated in the film is simply an integration of existing capabilities… …in fact it is easier to achieve than self-driving cars, which require far higher standards of performance.” This is no longer science fiction, like in some film featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger or a Marvel comic superhero ultimately triumphing over a robot menace, this is now almost science fact. So if you don’t want to share this blog post at the very least please share the YouTube video clip with your friends because as I said at the beginning – this may well turn out to be one of the biggest issues of our time.


An Earthquake Season

The first big rains since April herald the end of a particularly long and dry summer. My garden all but gave an audible sigh as the water flowed like a small stream over what was left of the dusty grass and shrivelled plants. A good 10 degrees cooler it felt like the abrupt end of summer, which usually entails a week or so of unsettled weather before the temperatures head south until spring returns. It wasn’t the first storm but the first with a decent quantity of rain. A quite dramatic storm about two weeks ago which was more high winds, dry thunder and choppy seas, was so choppy that out in the bay two netted pens came undone at one of the countless fish farms that sit offshore. They say about 10 tons of almost mature cupra pronounced chup-ra (sea bream) escaped. It certainly locked like that judging by the number of fishermen and women taking up their positions on the shore around my house. It seemed like half the village was out their pulling in the fish. The hungry cupra seemed to be taking anything as bait, which isn’t surprising if you consider that they were being fed 3 times a day to fatten them up until suddenly they needed to switch from being a stodgy farmed, fat and lazy fish into wild hunters of the deep. I suppose a bit like a fast food junkie suddenly being dropped into a jungle and told to survive off the land. Although the number of catches seems to be dwindling I am pleased to report I managed to catch 3 decent sized fish myself. The last of which you can see below, which Kitten seemed to think was actually caught for her.

Cat with Fish
This season we also saw more than our usual share of earthquakes, which started with a 6.6 event between the Greek Island of Kos and Bodrum that caused fatalities back in July. The locals say there is usually a swarm of earthquakes every 15 to 20 years in this area. They also told us that the first big quake often triggers a few smaller ones that gradually move east along the fault line. This did happen and as much as anyone can predict these things no one was surprised when we had a rash of quakes from 4.3 up to 5.0 epicentred between 5 and 8 miles away from here in September. So a few cracks in tiles or brickwork and on two occasions I had a water pipe burst in my garden – which is perhaps more down to the appalling standard of plumbing professionalism in Turkey than any earthquake. However, after they headed east almost as far as Marmaris we thought we were safe for another 15 to 20 years; until we had another 4.6 quake quite close to Bodrum just this week so maybe this cycle isn’t quite over yet.

Aftermath of earthquake in Kos
Photo care of Express.co.uk
There is something a little unsettling during these changes of the seasons. Those of us who have worn nothing but flip flops or other beach shoes since May are suddenly faced with squeezing our feet into socks and proper shoes again – the same applies to underwear for those of us who have spent the summer going around commando. But it doesn’t take long for these cooler, longer nights to turn our attention to preparing our homes for winter. They can be surprisingly cold at times when you consider most of our houses where originally built for summer use; marble and stone walls may be great for keeping the heat down in July and August but do little to keep the heat in for those who brave the whole winter in Turkey. So it’s a time for servicing and reinstalling our wood burners or purchasing a few electric heaters for the house. Of course if you have a wood burner you also need to chop yourself a decent quantity of wood or at the very least buy a pick-up load of it for yourself together with a few bags of quality coal to lay on top.

Eventually you notice one day that all the Turkish tourists and English snow birds have gone for the winter leaving just a few of us left with the villagers. Sometimes that can feel like a relief after a heavy couple of months of being drawn into the social calendar. Parties, BBQ’s or just meeting up in the usual bars all adds to the waistline and the sense of guilt that you have drank a little more alcohol than planned… again. So late October into November becomes something of an early season of resolutions and plans to get fit again. It is also a period where we can let our hair down a little with few worries about what we look like. Some even take it as an excuse to let their hair down a little too far and it won’t be long before some of us are looking below our best with a few even becoming a little feral in appearance, all in the knowledge that there is no one around to notice let alone care what you look like. Which means it is always a bit of a surprise when you bump into someone in the market, who you thought had left weeks earlier, then quickly deduce from their look of surprise at your five days of beard growth and their noticing you’re still wearing your morning walking clothes that you have also slid down hill pretty quickly!

Feeling Feral
Photo care of tvtrope.org
But of course I am too much of a wuss to actually brave the cold and often wet winters here anymore. Soon enough I’ll be tempted to book flights to distant sunny places where I can spend a month or so avoiding the worst of it here. But then – just as imperceptibly as winter arrived we wake up one day in April and realise it’s time to take off our shoes, socks and our underwear again because yet another long hot summer has finally arrived.