[caption id="attachment_1469" align="alignleft" width="224" caption="Alex's desk has been put in this very spot. I sit to his left and then Bob sits to my left. Kevin is to the right of Alex(his space is off-camera)."][/caption]
We are (mostly) moved in.
See, it goes like this: it's an incubator space, close to WPI. So we have all manner of furniture in a space that provides lighting, power, HVAC and a lock on the door. And, that's about it.
And that's fine. It is, as they say, a start.
We have whiteboards. There is a big conference table. We have chairs that are decent, ergonomically speaking. And we have a soldering station and our stuff (screws, robotic arms, electrical tape and whatnot) is fairly well sorted. There is a coffee maker and a small fridge.
Little touches are appearing, like my Wegman calendar, and Bob's photographs. Plus there's Kevin's remote controlled helicopter.
Yes, we have a company helicopter. It can only transport a few amoebae (or a really small mouse), but we still have one. Kevin flew it around the office on Friday after we had put the furniture in, and it is a fun little toy. If you come over, and someone yells, "Duck!", well, now you know why they might be doing that.
At some point, we will have an Open House, when things are more together. But not only was it fun to get the stuff in and fairly well arranged, there was a while there where we were all sitting and working. I was typing a blog draft, Kevin was coding, Bob was looking at email and Alex was putting stuff into drawers (Greg is in Baltimore right now, but he was there in spirit). It felt, for lack of a better term, real.
We are getting there. And that is definitely a good half of the fun.
Just don't forget to duck on occasion.
There is another disturbing look into the future of the military's use of robotics. At the present time all current uses of robotics in the military assume the current policy of “man-in-loop” systems, where a soldier is on the other end of a system directly controlling it.
However, there is research and an initiative to have an autonomous fighting force by 2012. (Sparrow, R. (2007))
If this becomes the case, there comes a whole other level of moral responsibility that cannot be directly claimed by one person. This is a very dangerous situation where no human can be blamed if a robot participates in an atrocity. There is research to embed ethics into the autonomous systems so that they cannot knowingly commit war crimes, but ultimately those ethical models must be part of the system that governs the behavior of the robot. The only time that a robot could commit an atrocity (unless directly ordered to) would be if some part of its control system were to be damaged, or malfunctioning. If the ethical model meant to stop the robot from commuting atrocities is the same system running the robot, then there is no oversight of ethics on its behavior.
At the present time there are no autonomous systems in place capable of deciding to kill a human on their own. There are, however, projects such as the Talon project in the US and the Korean Armed Border Guard Robots that are being developed.
The Talon project is a US funded mobile autonomous gun platform that will be in a very real sense the type of robots feared by generations of science fiction writers. The Korean Border guard Robot is a stationary platform that will shoot and kill any person attempting to cross the 38th parallel. These types of projects show that a world where these ethical concerns must be considered is fast approaching. (Sharkey, N. (2008))
The politicians are the only ones that have the ability to effect policy on moral grounds. It is their job to temper the military's singleminded goal-oriented view of the world with reason and morals. Any lack of opposition on their part means that they have allowed other motives to corrupt their primary goal of representing the peoples will with an ethical decision making process.
There are some politicians who have objected to war on moral grounds, but the majority have not, and in fact have actively supported and even championed the war effort. There are monetary rewards for a technological war being waged and the most likely scenario is that this money has colored decisions. This leaves the politicians and their lack of action as the most morally culpable in the ongoing wars.
In the end, everyone in today’s modern society has participated in the ever-expanding world of technology and its cyclical interaction with its use in the military. The citizens sit back and watch their government and military, content with the comforts today’s technology has brought them. The military has used the technology available to them to hide the true nature of war and convince the citizenry to be content. The politicians have lost their ethical compass due to the lack of public outrage at immoral or unethical acts. All of these forces have worked together to create a society that cannot pull itself out of an ever deepening spiral towards an increasingly technological and increasingly deployed military.
One theme that is a constant among the varied uses and effects of the use of technology is that the merits are always determined by the user. There is no technology that can be good or evil or even neutral. It is always a matter of the motives of use of the technology. Is it being used to help people or to hurt, to create or to destroy? The responsibility for the effect of a piece of technology is on the designer of its final intended use, and on those who use it. Ultimately no technology can be praised or blamed for anything, it will always be the user that deserves the acclaim or accusations.
The motive behind the increased use of technology on the part of the average citizen is the least complex. A citizen is looking for a few simple things, to live, be safe and happy and to have those close to them be safe and happy as well. The average citizen has utilized technology to keep in closer contact with friends and family and become better informed about the world.
The average citizen will claim to be just “wasting time” on the Internet when they are in fact consuming information and media. Their motivation is often benign, as they are curious. They seek information about the people they care about and when that is consumed, they seek more information. The information is often slanted one way or another, but to the average citizen this is of little consequence. Because they believe themselves to be more informed about the world and see no reason to rise up against their government, they act less than previous generations have. For their part in the military and political process, they are mostly inactive. If any blame can be assigned, it is a matter of apathy at worst.
The military has decided to incorporate technology into the modern fighting force for a number of reasons. They are assumed to have the primary goal of protecting the United States from foreign threats. To do this effectively they need an effective fighting force. In generations past, this used to mean more and more soldiers. The new paradigm is better and better equipped soldiers.
The military has made effective use of technology for the purpose of keeping soldiers out of harm’s way, and not having to replace them. This might seem a noble intention on the surface, but this is just a reaction to the difficulties of running a wartime draft. The real motivation is that replacing soldiers is actually getting more and more difficult; therefore, it becomes important to protect the soldiers that you have. From less than noble intentions comes a positive result. The military comes out looking better than their intentions merit. Their moral culpability for the negative effects of technology comes from their myopic view of the world. They fail to see, or fail to care about the further reaching effects of their policies.
Next: the future, and the conclusion
Oh, it's coming.
What? you may be asking.
Innovation, the kind you only get from TED.
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As a result of its technological superiority, the United States has chosen to attack the countries where such groups (guerillas, extremist groups, etc.) reside only to find that all of our technology not only is not helping, but it is instead working against us.
The core of the conflicts are the people. When you respond to people with bombs and robots, you are unlikely to win them over as an ally later on. They will feel that the monolithic power that has taken over their country is nothing more than a steely robot face, nothing to be empathized with. What needs to happen is to have a human interacting with the people in these regions in order to win them over. This naturally requires that there be soldiers to perform this human to human task.
Where military technology does help is in situations such as mines or booby traps, both of which are increasingly common on today’s battlefield. An unmanned tele-operated robot can defuse these hazards not just for military personnel, but also for the citizens who have to live in these areas. This reduces soldier and civilian casualties at the same time and undoubtedly can be considered a good thing. Weighed against the other effects of using technology in warfare, however, it's not enough to balance it out. There still seems to be more bad then good.
One other effect of technology on war and vice versa has been the great strides that all sorts of technologies have made as a result of the motivation of warfare. These have benefited humanity as a whole.
From technology developed for military purposes we have gotten nuclear fission, turbo-jet thrusters, and the Internet. No one will refute the benefits these technologies have had to the world as a whole, not even nuclear fission, as it has provided energy on a scale that no other fuel could compete with. But the price that it came with was the nuclear bomb, the most destructive manmade force on earth.
The turbo-jet thruster democratized air travel by making it smooth, efficient, fast and cheap to travel long distances. It also helped escalate the Cold War, and has been the delivery system for most airborne weapons ever since.
The Internet has brought information from the whole to the whole world. Information is the backbone of the modern economy and has produced a more knowledgeable society. Yet it has simultaneously brought together the previously isolated scum of the earth into online communities of rapists, pedophiles and innumerable other horrors from the bowels of the Internet. The Internet was also originally developed to be a distributed command network in the event of a military attack. The purpose was to ensure maximum retaliation in the case of an effective first strike.
Next: the average citizen's consumption of technology and the military's motivations in using it.
While the military is just trying to maintain an effective fighting force, politicians use the misconception of soldiers’ safety to their own advantage. War means money. Specifically, military contracts for new materials bring an influx of federal cash and jobs into any region of the country that can supply the desired materials. It is always in the interest of a politician to support a conflict on behalf of a district that stands to profit from it. This is of course an optimistic view of political motives. Other less reputable politicians might have personal stock in a company that stands to profit from war, and therefore they stand to profit as well.
The most public example of this sort of corruption is the close interaction Vice President Dick Cheney and his company, Halliburton, had during the Iraq war. As is common knowledge, Vice President Cheney had the authority to influence which company won the contract to rebuild Iraq after the Second Iraq War. He was a known member of Halliburton and, despite Halliburton not having the best proposal, they were awarded the contract.
This clear and obvious corruption takes place without anyone objecting enough to stop it from happening. Thanks to this sort of influx of money, there are funds to help to develop newer and better technological advances as well, furthering the cycle. From the point of view of the politician there is little to de-motivate a politician from supporting war apart from personal objection and strong public outcry. And as mentioned before, the public outcry in no longer there. This is a dangerous positive feedback loop in the making: technology shields the citizens from the reality of war, the citizens do not therefore object to going to and staying engaged in conflicts, the politicians have every reason to go to war, and little reason not to, and the money from ongoing conflict drives the development of more and better technology.
In the end, there are only two questions to ask, is the world a better place for the furtherance of technology and is it even possible to stop the movement if it is not? For one, the United States has carefully cultivated an air of invincibility. This is by having demonstrated its ability to wage war at such a high level of technical sophistication that few armies can compete against it. The ability to drop bombs and hit targets based on information from satellites is intended to strike terror in the hearts of current and potential enemies.
And while these feats are incredible, the response has universally been underwhelming, to wit, the guerrilla fighters of the Vietcong people and soldiers of limited means brought the United States to its knees time and time again. While in the current conflict in Iraq, insurgent fighters use our own unexploded munitions and cell phones to wage war effectively. They have learned not to be targets and to blend into regular communities.
All of the United States combined might cannot hit what it can't see. To that end, no organized nation has attempted to attack the United States in open warfare for fear of their retaliatory capabilities. Yet instead there have been extremist groups with no national backing that have attacked. This is something that all of the United States' mighty technology cannot find and successfully retaliate against. Next: the side benefits of technology.
While it may seem like a good thing to have a technological shield for the purpose of keeping some soldiers physically out of harm’s way, there are unintended societal consequences. As has been seen from the conflict in Sarajevo, the First Gulf War, and the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the citizens of the United States are much less willing to speak out against ongoing conflicts than they were just 40 years ago with the Vietnam War. We must ask ourselves as a nation why sending our military into armed conflicts has not produced the opposition it has in previous generations. (Such, E. (2005))
One factor that cannot be ignored is the lack of the use of the military draft. The government saw what a divisive move establishing the draft was for the country during the Vietnam Era. As a result, since the Vietnam conflict, the government, in conjunction with the military, has been looking to alter their strategies so that future conflicts require fewer soldiers. This is not out of a concern for soldiers’ lives, but rather a desire to prevent the opposition they saw to the Vietnam War. To achieve this goal they have, over time, reworked the big lumbering military of old into an agile technology-infused force. The goal is to increase the effectiveness of a single soldier such that they can deploy fewer of them.(Voth, D. (2004)). This would reduce the total number of soldiers needed to accomplish a task, ultimately reducing pressure to reinstate a draft in order to keep numbers up in times of conflict. Many will indicate that with the increased use of technology, better armor, and more action-at-a-distance weapons, the individual soldier is less and less likely to come to harm. This is of course not the case (it will be discussed later), but, enough people believe it so that the concept of a “safer soldier” has become a part of the common consciousness.
Enough people believe that our soldiers are safe because it makes it easier to live with their chosen silence in objection to these policies; therefore the wars continue. The military plays into this idea as much as it can in recruitment advertisements. (Dertouzos, J. (1989)) With more volunteers there is less of a need for a draft, and this lack of a draft prevents public opposition. The recruitment advertisements reinforce the misconception in the public's consciousness that war is safe and that misconception leads to the public having further reason to support a military engagement, never mind oppose it. The use of technology has put this cycle into motion; the military using technology to prevent opposition, and that new-found public support and awareness that has called for a demand for more technology on the battlefield. Next: Politicians get involved.
The main activity a robot cannot assume is the task of speaking with the citizens of an occupied country. In order to get intelligence, a soldier must develop a relationship with a citizen. The citizen must trust that the soldier will make his life safer if the citizen is to cede information to the military. In order for the citizen to believe this, a soldier must convince this citizen that he is there to improve the citizen’s life and make the country, as a whole, a safer place. Confidence that this task may be accomplished must be felt by the citizen.
However, if the soldier sends a robot to talk to the citizen, this projects the feeling of distrust in the citizen in the best case, and distrust in the goals of the military in the worst case. (Kazerooni, H. (1990)) Technology has helped make the soldier safer in a few specific cases, but in the end he must be the one to go out into the war zone and be exposed to potential harm.
Soldiers are not only exposed to physical harm, but also psychological harm. (Grossman, D. (1996)) A soldier may be protected from bullets and bombs by the use of guided missiles, telescopic gun sights and robotic gun platforms, but the soldier is still pulling the trigger to end a human life. Anyone who has had a chance to talk to veterans who "saw action" in any military conflict knows that the experience affected them, and more often than not, for the worse.
There is a psychological toll taken when an ordinary citizen is taken out of his normal life and made into a soldier is often referred to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (Kang, H.K (2003)) A person must be trained to kill other people. This training is not beneficial for the person as an individual, but rather is seen as a necessity for securing the nation as a whole. As the citizenry, we see a soldier come back from a war with no physical wounds and cheer that he is unharmed. If this soldier watched himself kill person after person through night vision binoculars used from within a tank or helicopter, then he is unlikely to be truly unharmed. The technology has become a smokescreen between the perceptions of war and the horror of the reality of war.
Next: Robots and the Draft.
The most recent period in our history has become known as the information age for good reason. (Castells, M. (1999)) Information is not only more accessible than it ever has been, but also more important than it ever has been. With the rise of the Internet, the average citizen is more aware of the political process and aware of the decisions that our political leaders make. This has produced citizens who can be informed enough to have opinions on the smallest decisions made by their government.
For instance, in the 2009 news there had been a debate on the use of government funds for Publicity photos for Air Force One. In earlier generations the average citizen would not have even been able to obtain information such as this.
In contrast, today there are many people who suddenly have opinions on government spending because a piece of information has been made available to them. The nature of the information any given individual can access has also changed. There has been a de-emphasis on desiring encyclopedic personal knowledge and instead relying on the knowledge of the community. That is to say, the ability to acquire the information you need using the Internet is more important than knowing any particular piece of information “off the top of your head”.(McFedries, P. (2006)) This has two direct consequences: first, the individual becomes as knowledgeable as the people who comprise their information community, i.e. the Internet; and second, one’s knowledge base is only as correct as the consensus of the community. (McFedries, P. (2006))
The technological advancements have not only been relegated to citizens; the military has increased its use of technology as well. (Smuda, W. (2004)) There has been a rapid acceleration of use of robotic weaponry on the battlefield. We all have seen videos on the news from the first-person perspective of a guided missile as it closes in on a window and explodes. Likewise, more recently, we have seen advertisements for the Army where a soldier is operating some robot via remote control. These highlight how technology has been utilized to keep soldiers “out of harm’s way” more and more. There are, however, many casualties as there is only a small group of specific tasks that can be performed by unmanned drones or tele-operated devices. The majority of tasks that used to require a soldier on foot, still do now. These tasks make up the core of the work that needs to be done to actually end a war.
Next: The Psychological Toll on Civilians and Soldiers.
Technology and its uses have had many effects on military applications. A few assumptions will be made for the sake of this thesis as almost any aspect of this discussion could be a book in and of itself.
The first is the purpose of technology. Within this scope, an assumption will be made that we, as humans, develop technology to help make our lives better, easier or safer. (Callon, M. (1987)) This is a simplified view, of course, but the full discussion is outside of scope. The other assumption is that there will always be conflict and war. (Syse, H. (2002)) Human nature and how it relates to war will not be discussed, merely that it exists, and will exist in some form regardless of technological contributions. The detailed discussion of that topic is outside of the scope, as well. What will be within the scope are the applications of technology and the ethical dimensions of the motives of those involved in both the development of and the deployment of technology for exclusive military applications. Also within the scope will be the effect on the frequency of conflicts, the degree of escalation of conflicts and the relative willingness of a nation to go to war with advanced technology at its disposal. In specific, this is mostly warfare technologies such as guided missiles, robots, and unmanned surveillance. Since this is not a technical paper, these technologies will be dealt with mostly as concepts.
One of the areas that are necessary to look at is the effect of technology, in general, on society. That is, how the average citizens’ increased access to information has changed modern society. This also includes how the use of technology in warfare specifically affects those involved. How does the soldier on the ground look at technology such as robots and guided missiles?
The other consideration is how the use of technology in warfare affects the citizenry. How do citizens perceive warfare in a world of new media? How does this unmanning of the battlefield affect the public image of us to our allies and to our potential and current adversaries? Does the decision to send unmanned devices against a perceived threat help win the longer term goal of prevention by deterring threatening agents from wanting to attack us in the future?
Finally, there will also be a look at how the availability of these “un-manned” technologies shape the decision-making process for the generals who direct actions in a conflict. To that same end, how do these technologies shape the political decision to go to war? The politicians’ decisions will also be inextricably tied to the economic effects of warfare and the use and development of new technology. Ultimately, the question will become one of whether this is even avoidable or, if it is inevitable, that technology will be used in warfare. That leads to the question of how this affects our collective societal morality and where the individual must act, or not act, to maintain a moral stance.
Next: Imagery and the Information Age.
We're sponsoring an event tonight! It's a Meetup for Tech Crunch, and it will be in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in Harvard Square. The venue is John Harvard's Brew House on 33 Dunster Street. Click here for a map.
We're very excited about it, and we hope you are, too!
Come meet us. We love to talk 'bots.
See you at 8 PM!
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