June 14, 2016

Killer robots: friend or foe?

Far from being autonomous merchants of death, killer robots are our friends, writes Matthew Sinclair.

It is understandable that many people are uncomfortable with the idea of machines doing our fighting for us. The Terminator and countless other science fiction masterpieces have ingrained in our psyche the fear that one day violent automatons we build will turn on us.

There’s an unease about the drones used today too. It seems almost unfair that an operator of a drone can kill a terrorist in Syria from the comfort and safety of the UK or the US, in the same way early machine guns felt unfair in old colonial wars. Add to that the concern that any new weapons will end up in the wrong hands, and it is easy to see why our lethal machines get a bad press. 

But are the killer robots increasingly a reality in modern warfare really bad news?

Dumb weapons will tend to kill more innocent people than smart ones. They are unable to discriminate between the innocent child and the guilty adult. We saw the peak of dumb destructive power in strategic bombing during the Second World War. The smarter our weapons get, the fewer innocent people will die.

Killer robots are also exactly what we need to fight nasty actors like the Islamic State. It is no accident it was a drone that killed Jihadi John.

It is hard for an ageing and comfortable society to beat desperate terrorists. Even if we are able to kill ten or twenty fanatics for every one of our soldiers who dies, and however brave individual British and American soldiers are, the price can become too high for politicians and voters here to bear before the bad guys quit. The other side knows that, increasing the incentive for them to hold out longer in the hope we give in.

At the same time, our tolerance for casualties among civilians caught in the cross-fire is also lower. Our enemies know that too and can exploit it by employing human shields, hiding in places like schools, further increasing civilian casualties in a conflict. If robots are able to do our fighting for us, at a greater and greater level of precision, then fewer people will die and wars will be shorter.

New weapons have always had the potential to change the kind of people who win wars. In his 1903 short story The Land Ironclads, in which he predicted what would become the tank, HG Wells depicted how that new technology could allow “devitalized townsmen” to beat tougher tribes. The clerks, factory hands and students might be “poor amateurs at war” but they were better at making tanks.

The new technologies being developed today favour sophisticated societies with market economies over random fanatics with pick-up trucks and scratched together small arms. They favour the good guys.

The contention that the transfer of these weapons to non-state actors is inevitable and terrorists will turn these weapons against us is unconvincing. They have neither the motive (avoiding unnecessary casualties) nor the means (technological sophistication). They might buy, steal or even manufacture some and that is a risk but, unlike with – say – nuclear weapons, it is not a potential catastrophe. We are not talking about some unstoppable science fiction Terminator arriving on the scene, but a weapon we would have more of and be better able to use. Our robots would win.

Many of the weapons being used by Islamic State in Syria today are a century old or more, complemented with simple consumer technology (like pick-up trucks and mobile phones). The Assad Regime has some modern weapons, but it is improvised explosives and poison gas, old technologies, that are creating the real humanitarian disasters. Dumb weapons work fine if your objective is an atrocity. Experts in Silicon Valley wildly overstate the easiness of high-tech manufacturing in the remoter corners of the world where terrorists are forced to hide.

There is much more to fear from a world in which liberal states retreat from conflict, resorting when pushed to the enormous destructive power of old weapons, than from military investment in AI and robotics. Killer robots are our friends.

5.00 avg. rating (93% score) - 1 vote
  • Shadow Warrior

    Hammond is continuity Brown. He is a hand-wringing lefty looking for clever wheezes to raise more tax in ways that people don’t immediately notice.

  • captainslugwash

    I predict the Budget will attempt to show the Left how caring the Tories are, and it will be funded by screwing over the working man.
    If Corp Tax comes down, I bet Divi tax will be going up.
    I would love to be wrong.

  • skynine

    We really need to look at tax credits, in particular in work tax credits that encourage people to work part time to preserve the benefits. 45% of women work part time and I would hazard a guess that tax credits are the main cause. This leads to low pay, low skill work in supermarkets and the retail sector including coffee shops. The government needs to get back to the employer paying people to do a job for economic reasons rather than to get onto the tax credit ladder. Like all government benefits it distorts the market and diverts government expenditure into non productive areas.
    The refrain that the government has cut expenditure is not true, it increases every year as more and more goes into welfare.

  • MrVeryAngry

    fat chance

  • MrSauce

    So, when wouldn’t we want a ‘budget for growth’?

  • Rob

    I note that the UK Government has just slapped on a 25% tax charge for anyone moving abroad and wishing to move out their private pension from the UK.

  • SonofBoudica

    The Remoaners will do their utmost to sabotage the Government’s negotiating position. They do not want a successful outcome; they want a failure. They want to be able to scream “Told you so!” from the rooftops.

  • EnglandLaments

    Thank goodness for Andrew Neil, the one media hack who scares the pants off the established politicians. He was spot on with Heidi Allen!

  • joshuafalken

    I had a very long, hard, studied and considered look at the hope, care and aspirations of all Europeans, before I voted to get the UK out of the toxic grasp of Brussels.

    The European Union and it’s charge of “ever closer union” has borrowed and spent its way to oblivion, whilst enslaving the working and middle classes in debt.

    The central control mantra of the unaccountable Brussels ruling elite, delivered through a mixture of socialism, globalism and corporatism is entirely responsible for the populist revolt by the millions of “Just About Managings” across Europe.

    We must remember the ultimate goal of socialists, globalists and corporatists is control, not prosperity. see https://mises.org/blog/goal-socialists-socialism-—-not-prosperity.

    Social equality and economic growth always fail under central control and fighting against the Brussels doctrine on behalf of all Europeans is why I voted for Brexit.

    Britain has a long history of helping Europeans depose tyrants and Brussels is just the latest incarnation.

    Britain is the most racially advanced and accepting society on the planet. We welcome those in need and those that can help us with open arms and a smile; that will not change.

    We are also one of the most innovative, talented and open societies in the world, which why everyone wants to live here. However, we cannot fit everyone in, so we have to have clear, balanced and fair immigration policy which is where the arguments start between the monetarists and humanists will never be reconciled.

    I thought long and hard before coming to the conclusion that leaving the EU was in the best interest of all Europeans, as Brussels is toxic and cannot be reformed from within.

    Also, I find it insulting that people who voted Remain have insufficient faith in British ingenuity, compassion and skill to get a good deal for us and see the Europe that we love get a better deal from Brussels and the reform that European people deserve. https://mishtalk.com/2017/03/29/bad-brexit-deal-better-than-no-deal-mathematical-idiocy-odds-of-no-deal/ and https://www.worldheadlines.info/2017/03/after-brexit-9-reasons-to-be-bullish-on-great-britain/

    The politics of left verses right are dead because neither have delivered the promised economic growth and social mobility for anyone, but themselves. The populists are not selfish per-se, they just want to take back control of their own destiny that left/right politicians have freely given away and/or exploited for their own ends. In my constituency, the local residents group are taking over the councils as politicians ignore voters, so Westminster should beware of the well-organised, local resident independents at the next election. This is a peoples revolution which should be shouted from the rooftops, but liberals remained deafened by the socialist, globalist and corporatist “vested interests” that have spectacularly failed us and are obediently crying foul and fake.

    There will be an initial unpalatable inflationary cost to fighting globalism and rolling back central control that few appear to have factored in, but dismantling failed left/right vested interests should eventually free libertarian socially-conservative capitalism from the shackles of TBTF corporatism to feed economic growth and social mobility.

  • agdpa

    The EU usually makes the wrong decision – on immigration, on freedom of movement, on the euro, on the Ukraine, etc. etc. Little hope it will get Brexit right.

  • brownowl

    Eh? Reference please!

  • Neil2

    Sod caring. Screw the spongers and breeders. Kill HS2. Stop all “green” subsidies. Slash “foreign aid” and walk away from the EUSSR with immediate effect.

  • Rob
  • John C

    What a confused article. It conflates surveillance by the security services with poor defences against fraud.

  • John C

    Err, it’s the UK that’s leaving the EU, not vice versa.

  • John C

    Me, now. ‘Growth’ is a manic obsession.

  • La Face Nord

    Mr Redwood – are you aware of the Biased BBC website? It’s been exposing their agenda for a long time, but I imagine you’ve been well aware of the BBC’s agenda for quite some time…

  • Contact Rvtech

    The post is great

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