U.S. Military Announces Development of Drones That Decide to Kill Using AI

Drone warfare (with its state terrorism causing numerous civilian casualties) is already horrifying enough — this AI drone development would likely be even worse. This announcement also raises the question of how much accountability those who write the algorithms that determine how the drone functions will face.

The US Army recently announced that it is developing the first drones that can spot and target vehicles and people using artificial intelligence (AI).

Whereas current military drones are still controlled by people, this new technology will decide who to kill with almost no human involvement.

Once complete, these drones will represent the ultimate militarisation of AI and trigger vast legal and ethical implications for wider society.

There is a chance that warfare will move from fighting to extermination, losing any semblance of humanity in the process.

At the same time, it could widen the sphere of warfare so that the companies, engineers and scientists building AI become valid military targets.

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Even with these drone killings, human emotions, judgements and ethics have always remained at the centre of war.

The existence of mental trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among drone operators shows the psychological impact of remote killing.

And this actually points to one possible military and ethical argument by Ronald Arkin, in support of autonomous killing drones. Perhaps if these drones drop the bombs, psychological problems among crew members can be avoided.

The weakness in this argument is that you don’t have to be responsible for killing to be traumatised by it.

Intelligence specialists and other military personnel regularly analyse graphic footage from drone strikes. Research shows that it is possible to suffer psychological harm by frequently viewing images of extreme violence.

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The prospect of totally autonomous drones would radically alter the complex processes and decisions behind military killings.

But legal and ethical responsibility does not somehow just disappear if you remove human oversight. Instead, responsibility will increasingly fall on other people, including artificial intelligence scientists.

The legal implications of these developments are already becoming evident.

Under current international humanitarian law, “dual-use” facilities – those which develop products for both civilian and military application – can be attacked in the right circumstances. For example, in the 1999 Kosovo War, the Pancevo oil refinery was attacked because it could fuel Yugoslav tanks as well as fuel civilian cars.

With an autonomous drone weapon system, certain lines of computer code would almost certainly be classed as dual-use.

Companies like Google, its employees or its systems, could become liable to attack from an enemy state.

For example, if Google’s Project Maven image recognition AI software is incorporated into an American military autonomous drone, Google could find itself implicated in the drone “killing” business, as might every other civilian contributor to such lethal autonomous systems.

Ethically, there are even darker issues still.

The whole point of the self-learning algorithms – programs that independently learn from whatever data they can collect – that technology uses is that they become better at whatever task they are given.

If a lethal autonomous drone is to get better at its job through self-learning, someone will need to decide on an acceptable stage of development – how much it still has to learn – at which it can be deployed.

In militarised machine learning, that means political, military and industry leaders will have to specify how many civilian deaths will count as acceptable as the technology is refined.

Recent experiences of autonomous AI in society should serve as a warning.

Revving Up the War Machine for Another Military Adventure (Disaster) in Syria or Elsewhere

Likely bad news in foreign policy will appear soon. U.S. military intervention has caused immense problems in the past several decades.

GLENN GREENWALD: So, obviously, the use of chemical weapons in any instance is horrific. It’s a war crime. It’s heinous. And it ought to be strongly condemned by everybody. I think that it’s—the evidence is quite overwhelming that the perpetrators of this chemical weapons attack, as well as previous ones, is the Assad government, although, in war, there are always lots of reasons to doubt, and we certainly shouldn’t run off and make hasty decisions, until there’s a real investigation, to make the evidence available.

I think the more important question at the moment is: What is the actual solution? Obviously, what’s happening in Syria is and long has been a horrific humanitarian crisis, filled with war crimes committed by pretty much every actor there. The Assad government has killed more people than any other. But the question is: What solutions do you think are viable? Do you think that having Israel fly fighter jets over Syria and bomb whoever they decide is their enemy is something that’s really going to help the humanitarian crisis? As Israel slaughters innocent Gazan protesters and uses snipers to end the lives of journalists who are wearing press jackets, do you really think that Netanyahu is going to help the situation in Syria? Do you think that Donald Trump is going to be able to command a military action that is going to do any good for the people of Syria? Does anyone think that that would be the goal of Trump’s military action or the role of the United States government revving up its war machine, that would end up helping the Syrians?

I think we ought to have learned the lesson by now that when we cheer for military action by Western governments in the Middle East, because we’ve been emotionally manipulated to be angry about some genuinely horrific act, it doesn’t end up doing anything other than making us feel good, and it usually ends up making the situation worse. So I think it’s possible and necessary to express moral outrage at the chemical weapons attack and other attacks on Syrian civilians, while at the same time remaining sober and rational and careful about how we allow our emotions to be funneled and channeled in order to try and come up with solutions.

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As far as Bolton is concerned, obviously, Bolton is a sociopath. He’s one of the most dangerous foreign policy advisers and officials of the last 15 years. People in the Bush administration who served with him and who served with people like Dick Cheney and John Yoo and Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz—actual sociopathic maniacs, as well—have said that John Bolton was probably the most unstable and dangerous person in the Bush administration. And now he’s about to move into—or he has moved into an extremely influential position, advising Trump in the White House on matters of national security. But again, it is true that there is a big movement on the right and on the left to oppose U.S. intervention in Syria, on the grounds that it’s not in the U.S. interest to try and control what’s happening in Syria. We’ll see where Bolton falls on that. I mean, one of Bolton’s primary dreams in life is to go to war with Iran. And so, opposing Assad is one way to achieve that. He’s also a loyalist to Israel, and Israel seems to want Assad gone. So it’s very dangerous right now, given who’s in power and this pro-war orthodoxy that is arising almost automatically in Washington, given how high the stakes are and how inflammatory that situation is.

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And this is why, Amy, I think that, you know, the whole debate around Russia over the last 12 months has been so dangerous, because this climate has been created in Washington, the premise of which is that Vladimir Putin and Russia are an existential threat to the United States, that they’re our prime enemy, much like they were during the Cold War, and that we need to confront them further, and any failure on the part of Donald Trump to confront Putin militaristically and directly is proof that he did collude with the Russians or is an agent of Russia. And it’s created this incentive scheme on the part of the Trump administration to try and confront Russia even further. And that is what they’re doing. And it’s a very dangerous game to play, given that Russia and the United States still have thousands of missiles with nuclear tips aimed at each other’s cities, with very archaic, unreliable trigger systems from the Cold War still in place governing how those missiles could be used.

Lingering Damage from the Vietnam War

The estimates are that “at least 350,000 tons of live bombs and mines remain in Vietnam.” This is another reason that the U.S. should stop all of its current military interventions abroad — the track record after World War II has been too horrifying for it to continue bombing and invading countries overseas.

Bombs and other ordnance were dropped on thousands of villages and hamlets. The most common were cluster bombs, each of which contained hundreds of baseball-size bomblets; the bombs are designed to explode near ground level, releasing metal fragments to maim and kill. But many of the cluster bombs failed to release their contents or, in other cases, their bomblets failed to detonate.

For the Vietnamese, the war continues. Loss of arms, legs and eyesight are for the more fortunate ones. Others have lost their family breadwinners, or their children. Children find baseball-size metal objects and unwittingly toss the “toys” to one another in games of catch until they explode. Nearly 40,000 Vietnamese have been killed since the end of the war in 1975, and 67,000 maimed, by land mines, cluster bombs and other ordnance.

That’s not the only, or even the worst, legacy of the war that Vietnamese families still face. Seeking to defoliate entire forests to expose enemy forces to spotter planes, the Americans dropped 18 million gallons of chemical herbicide over South Vietnam from 1962 to 1972. There were several defoliants used, but the best known was Agent Orange. In 20,000 spraying missions, planes drenched the countryside and an estimated 3,181 villages.

While entire forests dried up and died typically within weeks of spraying, it would be years before scientists established that one of the active ingredients in the defoliants, a group of compounds called dioxin, is one of the deadliest substances known to humankind. Just 85 grams of dioxin, if evenly distributed, could wipe out a city of eight million people. But illnesses and deaths from Agent Orange exposure were only the initial outcomes. Dioxin affects not only people exposed to it, but also their children, altering DNA. Large numbers of Vietnamese babies continue to be born with grotesque deformities: misshapen heads, bulging tumors, underdeveloped brains and nonfunctioning limbs.

The deadly defoliants also rained down on American troops. Researchers led by Jeanne Stellman of Columbia examined military records of the flight paths of Agent Orange spraying missions. Comparing those flight paths to the position of nearby villages and American ground troops revealed a direct association between exposure and later health problems.

These findings, published in 2003, put an end to the longtime denial by the government that Agent Orange spraying did not harm American troops. The Department of Veterans Affairs now assumes, as a blanket policy, that all of the 2.8 million troops who served in Vietnam were exposed to chemical defoliants, and provides some medical coverage and compensation for that. But the United States has never acknowledged that it also poisoned millions of Vietnamese civilians in the same way.

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The indiscriminate use of ordnance and chemical weapons against civilian populations is prohibited under international law, dating back to the Hague and Geneva Conventions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But for more than a decade, the United States acted in direct contravention of those agreements, which it had pledged to uphold. Since that time, numerous additional international treaties and conventions have come into force that not only prohibit the types of weapons used by the United States in Vietnam, but also require their cleanup after hostilities cease.

The United States, however, has done very little to fulfill such obligations, leaving it largely to the Vietnamese to suffer the results and to clean up what they can nearly 50 years later. Some have suggested that because much of the relevant international law requiring cleanup came into effect after the United States left Vietnam, the country is absolved of such obligations. But this assertion hangs on a thin thread, as the unexploded ordnance and defoliants still injure and kill people today. American responsibility for cleanup is therefore applicable under international law, not something to be dismissed with a historical wink.

Danger: Warmonger Choice for National Security Adviser Raises Risk of U.S. War With Iran

Iran isn’t a totally defenseless country like Afghanistan and the other countries the United States has invaded in recent years — Iran actually has a decently competent military defense system capable of fighting back. If the U.S. goes to war with Iran, it will be a disaster that will result in significantly damaging blowback for the U.S. and quite possibly other parts of the world.

President Trump has tapped John Bolton to become his next national security adviser, replacing H.R. McMaster. Bolton is known for his ultra-hawkish views. He has openly backed war against Iran and North Korea, and was a prominent supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Just three weeks ago, Bolton wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal titled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First.” In 2015, while the Obama administration was negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, Bolton wrote a piece titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.”

Another article on this, linked to here because of the potential danger around this issue.

“You ran against Iran. And if you want to hire me, that’s what I’m going to produce for you.”

That is what newly appointed national security adviser John Bolton reportedly told President Donald Trump as he was being considered to replace H.R. McMaster in the White House’s most influential foreign policy position—a remark that appears to confirm the worst fears of foreign policy experts, who argued after Bolton was officially selected Thursday night that Trump “may have just effectively declared war on Iran.”

Bolton, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, has not been silent about his desire for America to attack Iran, a country he has asserted is partially responsible for the 9/11 attacks—adopting a fringe conspiracy theory without a shred of supporting evidence.

“Bolton’s first order of business will be to convince Trump to exit the Iran nuclear deal and lay the groundwork for the war he has urged over the past decade.”
—Trita Parsi, National Iranian American Council

Bill Would Remove U.S. Forces from Yemen

The U.S. military is guilty of war crimes in Yemen through the damage it has done to civilian life there. U.S. military involvement in the Yemen war was a factor in Yemen now facing a humanitarian crisis that is causing immense suffering there.

And in any case, history reveals that empires tend to collapse internally after being unable to sustain their military spending. The U.S. is using a considerable portion of its resources to bomb multiple countries overseas while much of its own domestic infrastructure is in a ghastly, crumbling state.

As the Trump administration continues to expand the U.S. military’s role in fueling the Saudi-led coalition’s deadly assault on Yemen—which has killed at least 10,000 civilians and sparked “the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis“—a coalition of senators led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced a bipartisan joint resolution on Wednesday that calls for the removal of American armed forces from the country.

“The bill will force the first-ever vote in the Senate to withdraw U.S. armed forces from an unauthorized war,” Sanders, who will be joined by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) in introducing the resolution, said in a statement on Tuesday.

The U.S. has been heavily supporting Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen for years, supplying the kingdom with weaponry and military intelligence. Last August, the Pentagon acknowledged for the first time that American troops are on the ground in Yemen.

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“By continuing to blindly back Saudi Arabia’s starvation campaign, on top of fueling Yemen’s suffering, the U.S. is creating more enemies and fueling the very extremism the War on Terror is supposed to be eradicating,” said Paul Kawika Martin, senior director for policy at Peace Action, in a statement on Wednesday. “Congress knows this, but Saudi Arabia’s legions of lobbyists on Capitol Hill have convinced some members of Congress to bury their heads in the sand.”

U.S. Military Drones and Terrorism

Mentioned in this RNRH podcast is how U.S. military drones in third world countries contribute to many of the people in those countries feeling terrorized. Also mentioned is that there are civilians in the militaristically-effected countries who aren’t even attending familial weddings anymore, such is the fear they have of dying from U.S. drone strikes, which indeed have a record of killing innocent people at weddings.

“Typically… raw recruits are kids straight out of high school… they’re often working in the Western United States… in bases in Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona… where they work twelve hour shifts.  And it’s their job to watch somebody on the other side of the world… One of the people whose story I tell is a young woman named Heather Linebaugh… and she said she often would tell the commanders and the pilots that they were making a mistake… and what she said was nobody paid attention to her, and here’s the reason:  because she was nineteen, because she was straight out of high school, because she was at the bottom of the chain, the pilots, who typically graduated from college, twenty-five and older, the commanders, who might be in their forties, didn’t really take her opinion seriously. But here’s the rub.  She was actually the person who saw what happened day in and day out.  So even though she was the lowest person on that chain of command… she was the one who knew the most… She described to me… how she would literally go away and cry because she had felt like she had really sent somebody to their death without giving them the opportunity to find out if they were really guilty.” — Investigative Journalist Pratap Chatterjee

Poll Finds Strong Public Opposition to Endless U.S. Military Intervention Abroad

There is over $200 million of daily spending on the “war on terror,” and the U.S. has been at war for much of its history. In the 21st century, the U.S. has already totaled costs of over $5.5 trillion with its wars overseas. It’s no wonder that there’s a strong desire to end the damaging militarism.

Last week, the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Foreign Policy—a bipartisan advocacy group calling for congressional oversight of America’s lengthy list of military interventions abroad—released the results of a survey that show broad public support for Congress to reclaim its constitutional prerogatives in the exercise of foreign policy (see Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution) and for fewer US military interventions generally. Undertaken last November by J. Wallin Opinion Research, the new survey revealed “a national voter population that is largely skeptical of the practicality or benefits of military intervention overseas, including both the physical involvement of the US military and also extending to military aid in the form of funds or equipment as well.”

Bill Dolbow, the spokesman for the Committee for a Responsible Foreign Policy, said, “We started this initiative to give a voice to the people and the people have spoken—Congress needs to enact more oversight before intervening in conflict abroad.”

The headline findings show, among other things, that 86.4 percent of those surveyed feel the American military should be used only as a last resort, while 57 percent feel that US military aid to foreign countries is counterproductive. The latter sentiment “increases significantly” when involving countries like Saudi Arabia, with 63.9 percent saying military aid—including money and weapons—should not be provided to such countries.

The poll shows strong, indeed overwhelming, support, for Congress to reassert itself in the oversight of US military interventions, with 70.8 percent of those polled saying Congress should pass legislation that would restrain military action overseas in three specific ways:

  • by requiring “clearly defined goals to authorize military engagement” (78.8 percent);
  • by requiring Congress “to have both oversight and accountability regarding where troops are stationed” (77 percent);
  • by requiring that “any donation of funds or equipment to a foreign country be matched by a pledge of that country to adhere to the rules of the Geneva Convention” (84.8 percent).

One survey in the article says that there’s a rarity in issues having bipartisan support, which is incorrect enough to be noted. There are actually a fair number of issues with significant support from across the political spectrum, such as breaking up the big banks and allowing for free public university tuition.