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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

 

Shutting down Skynet

by Tom Sullivan

You know you're in trouble when life starts resembling a Schwarzenegger movie. What with economic insecurity, huge income disparity, severe drought in California, massive NSA surveillance, a virtual war on the poor, police firing on unarmed civilians, and a population pacified with reality TV, The Running Man (1987) comes to mind. In a dystopian, near-future police state, Ah-nold gets framed as "The Butcher of Bakersfield" after a police helicopter crew (following orders) fires on food rioters.

But that was 2017. Today, the Air Force is hot to open your friendly skies to its large Predator, Reaper, Global Hawk, and Sentinel drones. A few weeks ago, I wrote about that at Crooks and Liars. The press focus has been on the FAA's congressionally mandated commercial drone testing, yet "there is no funding from FAA to support the test sites." Plus, everywhere you look, the people involved in the testing program seem to include Department of Defense, ex-military, Air National Guard, or members of the defense industry. I wrote:

It's not that commercial drones aren't of interest to the private sector. Ask Amazon. But the military and U.S. defense contractors want access to civilian airspace for testing exportable military hardware and for keeping their drone pilots' skills sharp. Several drone testing programs are fashioned as university research programs and appear as civilian efforts. That might be understandable after George W. Bush's speech about drones attacking civilians with "chemical and biological weapons," and after revelations about widespread domestic surveillance here and abroad.

The T-party is a mite freaked out about the prospect. (I help by telling them Obama's surveillance drones can see down into their gun safes and count their weapons.) Still, Bush took us to war a dozen years ago over the supposed threat of Saddam Hussein's unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) raining death from above. Now, post-Edward Snowden we're supposed to be cool with the idea of Air Force UAVs — now rebranded Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) — sharing the national airspace with your flight to Chicago for your cousin's wedding. But not to worry. The Department of Defense is racing to develop and equip its unmanned aircraft with autonomous sense-and-avoid (SAA) technology.

Not creeped out yet?

This week, nations from around the world will debate the future of lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS), or so-called “killer robots,” at the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in Geneva.

Killer robots, as in The Terminator? Geneva Convention, as in the Bush White House declared provisions it didn't like quaint ? Yup:

Today, April 13, experts and delegates from around the world are gathering in Geneva, Switzerland for a discussion on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, or, LAWS. The Meeting of Experts is organized by the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). Over the next five days, the representatives will attempt to work through some of the technical, legal, military, sociological, and ethical issues posed by the development of “killer robots.” At stake is a proposed preemptive ban on the development, production, and use of these weapons.

The call to ban “killer robots” is gaining traction among human rights lawyers and activists. On April 9, Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic published a report urging all nations to support a ban on LAWS given the “significant hurdles to assigning personal accountability for the actions of fully autonomous weapons.” Various nations are also pushing for the ban as a means of preventing LAWS from reaching the battlefield. Since these highly sophisticated autonomous weapons have yet to be invented, a substantial portion of the deliberations at this meeting will be devoted to understanding and defining LAWS.

I know. What a relief, right?

(h/t Barry)