Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Awaitng The Robolords

The United Nations wants a moratorium on killer robots. Really. This is not part of an elaborately crafted promotional stunt for the new Michael Bay blow-'em-up. This is a U.N. Human Rights Commission report from last week that deals with legal and philosophical issues involved in giving robots lethal powers over humans. Didn't they read Asimov? ''A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm." Unless the robot in question happens to be the once and future Governor of California. and you happen to be listed in the phone book under "Sarah Connor."
Okay, all kidding aside, we all really know that we're not talking about Skynet becoming aware. This is not a ride at Universal Studios.
According to a report written by Christof Heyns, a South African professor of human rights law, the United States, Britain, Israel, South Korea and Japan have developed various types of fully or semi-autonomous weapons. In the report, Heyns focuses on a new generation of weapons that choose their targets and execute them. He calls them "lethal autonomous robotics," or LARs for short, and says: "Decisions over life and death in armed conflict may require compassion and intuition. Humans - while they are fallible - at least might possess these qualities, whereas robots definitely do not."On the other hand, he notes that LARs "will not be susceptible to some of the human shortcomings that may undermine the protection of life. Typically they would not act out of revenge, panic, anger, spite, prejudice or fear. Moreover, unless specifically programmed to do so, robots would not cause intentional suffering on civilian populations, for example through torture. Robots also do not rape."
Perhaps Professor Heyns is unfamiliar with Proteus in "The Demon Seed." Or the actions of the Gropenator. Alas, I don't seem to be able to separate fantasy from real life. This is one of the failings of the human mind, after all. 
The United Nations is scheduled to have further discussion on this matter at the end of the month. This should give Professor Heyns and the rest of the Commission to get some more background information. But just a little heads-up: "Demon Seed" isn't available on Netflix. Coincidence? Time will tell.

No comments: