February 28, 2008

Automated killer robots 'threat to humanity': expert

Feb 27 06:18 AM US/Eastern


Increasingly autonomous, gun-totting robots developed for warfare could easily fall into the hands of terrorists and may one day unleash a robot arms race, a top expert on artificial intelligence told AFP.

"They pose a threat to humanity," said University of Sheffield professor Noel Sharkey ahead of a keynote address Wednesday before Britain's Royal United Services Institute.

Intelligent machines deployed on battlefields around the world -- from mobile grenade launchers to rocket-firing drones -- can already identify and lock onto targets without human help.

There are more than 4,000 US military robots on the ground in Iraq, as well as unmanned aircraft that have clocked hundreds of thousands of flight hours.

The first three armed combat robots fitted with large-caliber machine guns deployed to Iraq last summer, manufactured by US arms maker Foster-Miller, proved so successful that 80 more are on order, said Sharkey.

But up to now, a human hand has always been required to push the button or pull the trigger.

It we are not careful, he said, that could change.

Military leaders "are quite clear that they want autonomous robots as soon as possible, because they are more cost-effective and give a risk-free war," he said.

Several countries, led by the United States, have already invested heavily in robot warriors developed for use on the battlefield.

South Korea and Israel both deploy armed robot border guards, while China, India, Russia and Britain have all increased the use of military robots.

Washington plans to spend four billion dollars by 2010 on unmanned technology systems, with total spending expected rise to 24 billion, according to the Department of Defense's Unmanned Systems Roadmap 2007-2032, released in December.

James Canton, an expert on technology innovation and CEO of the Institute for Global Futures, predicts that deployment within a decade of detachments that will include 150 soldiers and 2,000 robots.

The use of such devices by terrorists should be a serious concern, said Sharkey.

Captured robots would not be difficult to reverse engineer, and could easily replace suicide bombers as the weapon-of-choice. "I don't know why that has not happened already," he said.

But even more worrisome, he continued, is the subtle progression from the semi-autonomous military robots deployed today to fully independent killing machines.

"I have worked in artificial intelligence for decades, and the idea of a robot making decisions about human termination terrifies me," Sharkey said.

Ronald Arkin of Georgia Institute of Technology, who has worked closely with the US military on robotics, agrees that the shift towards autonomy will be gradual.

But he is not convinced that robots don't have a place on the front line.

"Robotics systems may have the potential to out-perform humans from a perspective of the laws of war and the rules of engagement," he told a conference on technology in warfare at Stanford University last month.

The sensors of intelligent machines, he argued, may ultimately be better equipped to understand an environment and to process information. "And there are no emotions that can cloud judgement, such as anger," he added.

Nor is there any inherent right to self-defence.

For now, however, there remain several barriers to the creation and deployment of Terminator-like killing machines.

Some are technical. Teaching a computer-driven machine -- even an intelligent one -- how to distinguish between civilians and combatants, or how to gauge a proportional response as mandated by the Geneva Conventions, is simply beyond the reach of artificial intelligence today.

But even if technical barriers are overcome, the prospect of armies increasingly dependent on remotely-controlled or autonomous robots raises a host of ethical issues that have barely been addressed.

Arkin points out that the US Department of Defense's 230 billion dollar Future Combat Systems programme -- the largest military contract in US history -- provides for three classes of aerial and three land-based robotics systems.

"But nowhere is there any consideration of the ethical implications of the weaponisation of these systems," he said.

For Sharkey, the best solution may be an outright ban on autonomous weapons systems. "We have to say where we want to draw the line and what we want to do -- and then get an international agreement," he said.

February 10, 2008

How to piss off credit card companies and get away with it.

A "Fair and Balanced" Game

A "Fair and Balanced" Game!?
Bill O'Reilly Bingo!

Civil Liberties Groups Sue Homeland Security for Records on Intrusive Questioning and Searches of U.S. Travelers

Information Sought in Response to Growing Complaints of Harassment at U.S. Borders

San Francisco - The Asian Law Caucus (ALC) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed suit today against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for denying access to public records on the questioning and searches of travelers at U.S. borders. Filed under the Freedom of Information Act, the suit responds to growing complaints by U.S. citizens and immigrants of excessive or repeated screenings by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.

ALC, a San Francisco-based civil rights organization, received more than 20 complaints from Northern California residents last year who said they were grilled about their families, religious practices, volunteer activities, political beliefs, or associations when returning to the United States from travels abroad. In addition, customs agents examined travelers' books, business cards collected from friends and colleagues, handwritten notes, personal photos, laptop computer files, and cell phone directories, and sometimes made copies of this information. When individuals complained, they were told, "This is the border, and you have no rights."

"When the government searches your books, peers into your computer, and demands to know your political views, it sends the message that free expression and privacy disappear at our nation's doorstep," said Shirin Sinnar, staff attorney at ALC. "The fact that so many people face these searches and questioning every time they return to the United States, not knowing why and unable to clear their names, violates basic notions of fairness and due process."

ALC and EFF asked DHS to disclose its policies on questioning travelers on First Amendment-protected activities, photocopying individuals' personal papers, and searching laptop computers and other electronic devices. The agency failed to meet the 20-day time limit that Congress has set for responding to public information requests, prompting the lawsuit.

"The public has the right to know what the government's standards are for border searches," said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "Laptops, phones, and other gadgets include vast amounts of personal information. When will agents read your email? When do they copy data, where is it stored, and for how long? How will this information follow you throughout your life? The secrecy surrounding border search policies means that DHS has no accountability to America's travelers."

When Nabila Mango, an American citizen and San Francisco therapist, returned from a trip to the Middle East in December, customs agents at San Francisco International Airport asked her to name every person she had met and every place she had slept during her travels. They also searched her Arabic music books, business cards, and cell phone, and may have photocopied some of her papers.

"In my 40 years in this country, I have never felt as vulnerable as I did during that interrogation," Mango said. "I want to find out whether my government is keeping files on me and other Americans based on our associations and ideas."

Amir Khan, an IT consultant from Fremont, California and a U.S. citizen, is stopped each time he returns to the country. Customs officials have questioned him for a total of more than 20 hours and have searched his laptop computer, books, personal notebooks, and cell phone. Despite filing several complaints, Khan has yet to receive an explanation of why he is repeatedly singled out.

"One customs officer even told me that no matter what I do, nothing would improve," said Khan. "Why do I have to part with my civil liberties each time I return home?"

For a copy of the complaint:


Marcia Hofmann
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Shirin Sinnar
Staff Attorney
Asian Law Caucus