Tag Archives: hacking

There’s No Duck-and-Cover with Automated Warfare

Kansas City      I can still remember my third grade teacher walking us through the duck-and-cover exercise and announcing as we prepared to march to the corner single file that she would be standing on the asphalt covered playground where she intended to mark an X, because she wanted no part of surviving a nuclear holocaust.  Being raised in the Sputnik era in the heat of the Cold War, what could possibly scare me?  The answer is a blood-curdling, hair-raising article in Scientific American about our slim chances of surviving or at this point even stopping the pell-mell rush of a number of countries towards automatic, algorithm-driven warfare.

The piece was written Noel Sharkey, a professor emeritus at the University of Sheffield in England.   Sharkey is also the founder and chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control and one of the co-founders of a nonprofit called the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.  In short, he’s not neutral on this issue, thank goodness!

Automatic weapons systems (AWSs) are not simply drones, which are scary enough even though nominally under the control of joystick jockeys here and abroad.  He actually advocates maintaining a human touch on any and all weapons both at the trigger and, more importantly, as a last gasp flesh-and-blood safety against unstoppable disaster.  He’s worried not about Star Wars cloned robot weapons, but about computer controlled tanks, planes, submarines, and ships that have a mind of their own in the deep binary of computer code and algorithms programmed to find their targets, engage equally mindless “enemies,” who may be other unmanned tanks, planes, submarines, and ships caught in the same endless kill and destroy loop.

It sounds like science fiction, until you realize that the United States is already developing unmanned transoceanic ships with fighting power that are accompanied by what Sharkey refers to as a flotilla of unmanned submarines that also have fire power.  They even have names, Sea Hunter for the ship, and DASH (Distributed Agile Submarine Hunting) for the subs.  Of course, the USA is not alone.  Russia doing the same with unmanned tanks designed to station along their border to stop invasions, like a weaponized Trump border all.  China, Iran, and other countries are all involved in developing similar weapons.

AWSs is the mostly deadly horror story of what might be wrought by artificial intelligence and machine learning, even as all of the experts concede computer glitches happen and software fails, even as the claim that they are preparing fixes for that.  I’m not sure what might stop hacking, since there seems to be no stopping that in normal life, much less on a battlefield.

Sharkey tells a story of how badly this can go by citing an algorithmic faceoff between two bookseller websites, profnath on one side and bordeebook on the other in a fight in 2011 on the Amazon website over an out-of-print book.  It was usually offered for $50, but “every time bordeebook increased its price, so did profnath.”  “Within a week brodeebook was selling the book for $23,698,655.93 plus $3.99 shipping before anyone notice.”  His point was hard to miss.  Similarly programmed automatic warfare instruments designed to act and react to expected battlefield or war scenarios could also careen into a totally destructive abyss.  The difference is that it wouldn’t take a week before the impacts were known, though it might take longer to count the bodies and forever to repair the damage.

Thirty nations have called for a complete ban of fully autonomous weapons according to Sharkey.  Most other countries want at least a guarantee of human intervention in the decisions to attack or not.  “Progress is being blocked, however, by a small handful of nations led by the U.S. Russia, Israel, and Australia.”

Tell me this doesn’t frighten you.  Literally to death!


Why Won’t Mitch McConnell Secure Voting?

New Orleans    Reading about the Robert Mueller testimony and the disappointment of various pundits and politicians that he didn’t make their life and decisions easier, I find such a head-scratcher.  He’s a lawyer.  He’s the former head of the FBI.  He’s a man of rules and secrets.  What were they thinking?  Preposterous!

On the other hand, Mueller was clear when he was in the lane he travels, rather than the one that others wanted him to navigate.  The Russians, maybe the Iranians, and who knows what other state actors like the Chinese, the North Koreans, and god knows who else, realize that they can hack into our hooptie voting machine apparatus and raise holy hell with our elections.  In, Mueller’s words:  it’s happening now!

For a hot minute there seemed to be a bipartisan interest in taking action at the federal level to make sure the elections were secure from hacking and interference.  Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stood in the aisles and put the kibosh to that.  Articles started appearing from hither and yon, insinuating that that McConnell was a “Russian asset.”  Some were reportedly calling him “Moscow Mitch.”  McConnell was clearly upset about not getting away with election machine stonewalling this time.  He whined about not liking the nicknames to the press.  He cried about the fact that his patriotism was being questioned.  He should of course expect and receive no sympathy, since these kinds of red-baiting and scurrilous attacks have been his go-to calling cards for years.

But, why is he stopping action on an issue that seems to straight forward?  Why won’t he allow the debate and action in the Senate that would prevent foreign interference in domestic elections?  That’s an interesting question to me, since it seems like such a no-brainer.

His claim is simple.  He doesn’t want the federal government to interfere with the way states regulate voting, hiding behind a state’s rights position.  This argument clearly holds no water, because why should states control anything about federal elections?  Obviously, the federal government should be able to mandate how voting is handled and secured in federal elections.  President Trump who has bounced around about whether he would accept or reject foreign assistance in elections, even tried to argue that voter IDs should be federally mandated.  Perhaps he doesn’t understand the McConnell obfuscation around states’ rights or more likely, this is a “pick and choose” thing on whatever each one of them thinks helps their candidate and their party the most.

The only way to understand McConnell’s resistance to protecting the ballot and leaving it in the hands of the states is that he knows the Republicans are going to need more and more help at the state level in terms of gerrymandering and voter suppression in the future to survive.  He sees protecting the ballot from foreign interference as opening the door to blocking domestic interference as well.

McConnell may not like being seen as unpatriotic for allowing Russia and others to subvert our elections, but being anti-democratic in the way he seems to prefer is also unpatriotic, even if he wants to claim that partisanship and court packing our justice system is all’s fair in love, war, and, I guess, politics.


Please enjoy  The New Pornographers  – Falling Down The Stairs Of Your Smile.

Thanks to KABF.