• (version 2) Technology and the future of human liberty.

    by  • September 2, 2008 • The Global Picture • 2 Comments

    Inspired by US Military to be 30% robotic in 12 years.

    Version 1 is here. Version 3 is here.

    A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

    The war against the Iraqi government was short, it was effective, it was a war between unequal forces with a predictable and final result: the government of Iraq was gone.

    That government, like all government, was a high level emergent structure. It has a visible form – people, a chain of command, buildings, but all that was swiftly and effectively overcome or destroyed. The “monopoly on legitimate use of force” rapidly passed to the American military, and then… something happened…

    The people of Iraq started shooting.

    Now, at this point, we’re going to take the gloves all the way off. The US military has been fighting a war against the people of Iraq. The Iraqi “militias” are directly equivalent to the well regulated militia that the Founding Fathers discussed as the last line of defense against government oppression – US government oppression. The fact that this oppression is occurring in Iraq rather than on US soil does not change the role of guns as tools of self-determination. The Second Amendment is guarantee of a right, but that right is based in observable reality. It is operating in Iraq today, and the streets run with blood as people exercise their right to die and kill for what they believe, however misguided it may be.

    The Iraqi people are demonstrating the Second Amendment. It turns out to work pretty well: 18 million people have turned out to contain a large enough population of stubborn bastards who will not submit to US authority, or the authority of the US-backed regime, to make the country more-or-less ungovernable for years. The loss of life, the waste of potential, the meaninglessness of the destruction are undeniable, but that is why they call it war; those things can be minimized but never prevented.

    What you are seeing in Iraq is a Second Amendment War. Make no mistake about that – it is small arms and improvised munitions on one hand, and massive State power on the other. It is much like the British in America suppressing the revolutionaries in fact, but America is now on the other side of the equation, playing the role of the Empire rather than the scrappy upstarts. And do not confuse this understanding of the situation with support for the Iraqi militias – no, by and large, I find these people and their values detestable, given that I believe in individual rights and those rights do not exist in theocracies or warlord-states such as those the average Iraqi insurgent is fighting to create. We are discussing methods here, not goals.

    So the response to this Second Amendment War at the Pentagon is to fund the development of weapons systems which are capable of defeating the Iraqi population, with their rifles and improvised bombs, so that the next population that chooses to resist the US military can be swiftly and effectively defeated. What this effort will do, if it is successful, is defang not just the population of Iraq, but all populations, overthrowing the protective effect individual firearms ownership, destroying the intent and effectiveness of the Second Amendment, and unbalancing the Constitution permanently through evolving technology which end-runs around the original intent of the Framers. It is the one blow that the Constitution cannot recover from: bad laws can be unmade, and unjust men can be hanged, but once the technologies to upend the Constitution exist, it is indeed finished.

    Weapons can be returned to the population, but once effective combat robots are here, those rifles will no longer be effective, and the limits to tyrannical government imposed by an armed citizenry will be gone forever.

    We have until effective combat robots are developed to regain control of government, and to recruited the deal which protects the liberty of all people. This does not mean just the US government, this means government period. Because these combat robots are coming, many are already here, and if we do not prevent their global deployment, by the time you and I are old we will see robots on street corners with guns that run software we do not control, implementing policies beamed to them over the airwaves in encrypted communications, accessing databases of faces and retinas, ever watchful for enemies not of the State as we currently understand it, but of the people who own the right to program the machines which watch over us. The State will have become technocratic – fascism by remote control – the dream of control, coveted by evil men for generations, will have come to fruition. We have a scant few years to arrest the development of these technologies or to rearchitect the social foundations of liberty to survive a situation where combat robots leave the population largely powerless to resist tyranny, whether they have their rifles or not. To develop the technology to defeat the rifle utterly in the field is roughly equivalent to absolute, final, global disarmament of the population.

    A cause for concern, I think you will agree.


    I am not suggesting that these combat robots will have human intelligence. I am not suggesting they will be effective policemen in the crime solving sense. They will start as remote controlled weapons platforms, then evolve common sense on navigation, then target selection, then tactics and strategy. What can be automated successfully will be automated, and the rest will be left to men in bunkers viewing screens where blood is rendered in black or blue, not red, and the faces of the fallen are fuzzed out as distractions from the real work of identifying and terminating enemies among the living. The dehumanizing of the enemy moves from wetware to software to hardware reducing all moral sentiment on the part of the soldiers that might stay their hands or cause them to question their chain of command. How you see the battlefield dictates your moral response to it, I am sure.


    Oppressing the masses is a job you can send a robot to do, or a flock of them. You can hurt people to order fairly easily with machines only a few decades away.

    So what do we do about this future of oppression at the hands of robots developed to defeat the improvised weapons of freedom fighters, revolutionaries and insurgents everywhere? What do we do about a future where little guy finally has no chance at all against the State, should the state turn against him and seek to drive him to the wall? What indeed can we do about that situation?

    The first thing we can do is work to prevent it.

    I want you to get serious about putting aside your political differences about the economy, and to get serious, left and right, about making sure that our children don’t grow up in a world where men they will never see or vote for control the box on the corner that tortures you with an invisible ray any time you get out of line.

    I will note that the development of a remote mass torture device contravenes all human and natural law, and the insistence that it will “save lives” is based on a simple misunderstanding: if the people are taking to the streets and screaming for change, and you torture them where they stand to make them stop asking for change, eventually they will turn to real violence and kill the hand that tortures them to make them comply, if they can. And if they cannot kill that hand, what has been created is a hell: a torture state which one cannot overthrow or escape from. What hand will wield these torture machines in a few generations? A thing once it escapes from the future to the present cannot be re-contained in most cases. Foolish research has added a thing to our world which will likely be a whip in the hand of the oppressor for all of future history. Your tax dollars at work.

    Lines are being crossed here. Technologies which stand every chance of enslaving us all are being developed to win the Iraq war, because the Iraq war is typically of armed resistance to government anywhere. It is disorganized, angry men with rifles and bombs dying for what they believe in, however misguided. If the ability to defeat such groups is developed and placed into the hands of the current incumbent governments and power groups, the same processes that gave rise to a free revolutionary America will no longer operate, and there will be no more stands to be made against the Empire. Those who stand will be ceaselessly and cheaply cut down by replaceable robot warriors manufactured far from the fray, operated from bunkers, and deployed far away from TV cameras. There will be little or no home front pressure to stop unjust and unnecessary wars because only the blood of the enemy will be shed in armed conflicts. The human cost of war will be borne entirely by the underdog, and therefore the underdogs will have lost their primary means of making the incumbent power groups change course. And, let me tell you, we are all potentially that underdog.

    Get moving. It’s time to get moving. Get real, understand the issues, understand the technology, get worried about the right things, and get organized.

    The Pentagon is pouring money into robot war right now. They clearly see the need for it – after all, a population in Iraq armed with only rifles and improvised bombs has ground the American military machine to a standstill in many ways. That cannot be allowed to happen again, can it?

    But what this means is that billions of dollars of R&D money are going into robots designed to win a war nearly identical to the war that the Founding Fathers imagined the population might one day have to fight against a tyrannical government. The clock is now ticking on the complete destabilization of the balance of power between the American people and their government. Once effective combat robots are developed and field tested, the Constitution is effectively dead until such time as the balance of power between people with their backs to the wall and the American State is restored.

    We have as long as it takes the military to develop effective combat robots to win our freedom.

    After that, we’re done.

    Turning people into instruments of the state, essentially turning people into machines has been the essence of government for a long time. Military scientists are cogs in the machine, soldiers that train to be heroes are cogs in the machine, police on the front lines against social change are cogs in the machine. All are the instruments of state. Scientists engage in “pure research.” Soldiers lose perspective on the moral issues that their role exposes them to under the veil of “just following orders.” Police train to “fight crime,” and crime broadens to include homosexuality, abortion, or growing your own marijuana to control your appetite loss or just because you prefer it to alcohol. Eventually it becomes criminal to express a political opinion contrary to the status quo.

    Tyranny has always been dependent on the willingness of the drafted or volunteer soldier do evil. I do not believe that the evil inherent in designing and manufacturing a robot for oppression is direct enough to act as a brake on the will of tyrants in the same way that the difficulties of mobilizing a population to do evil has been in the past. As long as there are enough workers for the automated factories that produce the combat robots, the tools will exist to enforce inhuman policies. There is little need for the mass creation of hate to persuade the population to kill: it will no longer require the active consent of the governed to maintain tyranny. What was once the work of brutal, evil people will have been automated.

    1984 is about how people are turned into machines by the state, and the ones who remain people are broken. It is about the mass manufacture of hate as a route to social control. But we have moved beyond this old vision of tyranny, of turning a person into a machine and then sending them to do a machine’s job.

    Consider how surveillance, once the work of human spies and informants, has been increasingly automated over time. First it was automated monitoring by bugging the phone lines, then by CCTV cameras, then by listening to the internet to see what people read and say to each other, and now your position, location and other data are constantly relayed by your cell phone to companies which may well share that data with the government. The telecom companies were rendered immune because they broke the law on privacy, not because they stood up for your rights against government spying.

    If you just take a look at the world for a moment, as it sprouts endless eyes and ears, and the governments assert their right to look at anything a machine sees, to hear anything a machine hears, consider how backwards 1984 seems. Back in quaint old 1984 the government did not use your own cell phone as a bug to listen to the room you are in at any time it pleases, whether or not your phone appears to be turned off. It did not trace your social networks. It did not listen to your voice on the line looking for stress and special words. It did not have machines to think for it. As technology strips past the 1984 vision, the need to turn people into machines to enforce tyranny grows less: now one can send a machine to do a machine’s job, rather than a person. This, Orwell did not predict.

    First surveillance, and now enforcement, are being automated.

    Imagine this same kind of technological progression in enforcement that we have seen in surveillance. First the robots operate by remote control, then they become increasingly capable of autonomous action, until finally centralized policy changes are rapidly implemented by a network of machines which do what they are told so that you will do what you are told. Automated enforcement of obedience to the will of the state will follow automated monitoring of those persons of interest to the State. First the eyes and ears were automated, and soon the fists and feet.

    Some may say that it cannot be done. I say it must not be done. It can be done, and therefore we must choose not do follow this path that we are on to its logical end: extinguishing freedom using technology. The combat robots operating in Iraq today are remote controlled vehicles with weapons. The next generations may well phone home to command centers with human operators for a lot of judgement calls, but a riot control robot need not be terribly sophisticated: mace, net and ID anybody who enters this area. It is so much easier than that if lethal force is authorized. From policy to enforcement with minimal human frailty (including mercy) is the goal, nothing more, and nothing less. Protect the troops, indeed, from both the hazards of combat, and to direct exposure to the psychological consequences of their actions.

    The point of a combat robot is to send a machine to do the killing, not a man who has been trained to act like a machine at times. Once there are automated armies, the requirement to get the consent of volunteer soldiers or the consent of a population to submit to a draft will be gone, and politicians will be able to make war at any time their treasury can pay for more hardware. It will no longer be necessary to lie to the population to stir up their emotions to fight a war, only to tax their docile acceptance a little more to pay for more hardware. The domestic human cost of war will have become essentially zero. If it stopped here, that would be bad enough.

    But tell me, how good does a combat robot have to be to kick in your door, spray the house with mace, and hit anything that coughs with a taser until it stops moving and can be encased in spray webbing for later pickup and processing? How goes does a robot have to be to detain anybody who smells like pot? How good does a robot have to be to break up a political demonstration?

    Not that good. If a robot is good enough to fight wars, it’s good enough to do political policing. It might not solve crimes, but it can bust heads that protest and capture people who’s position is known and who have been identified as enemies of the state.

    We have one generation to stop these technologies being developed, proven and deployed. Once they have been shown to work, liberty is toast until we find radically new approaches to getting free from the people who control the state.

    One generation. Our generation.

    This must be stopped before it can be started, because once the politicians have these tools, they will not give them up, any more than they were willing to give up nuclear weapons once they had been tested. We must not let them get this stuff into the field, because once it has been proven to work in putting down rebellions, the terminal check on the power of centralized governments will be gone. This is the big one.

    Get moving. The time to act is now. We must find solidity and unity in our stand on human rights, on civil liberties as the heart of the American state. We must face the big issue: technological support for dictatorship, and the automation of surveillance and later enforcement.

    We must act before technology makes slaves of all of us.

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    Vinay Gupta is a consultant on disaster relief and risk management.


    2 Responses to (version 2) Technology and the future of human liberty.

    1. September 2, 2008 at 1:21 pm

      All v. nasty. Just on the first bit, for another view of what’s going on in Iraq, I’ve found Talisman Gate, http://talismangate.blogspot.com/, to be well worth a read.

    2. September 2, 2008 at 1:22 pm

      Your dumbass blog software screwed that up – try http://talismangate.blogspot.com/ instead 🙂

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