“I, for One, Welcome Our New [Robot] Overlords”
Posted on January 30th, 2008 at 5:22 pm by Steve

Schematic of an Ethical Autonomous (Lethal) Robot

Following U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s use of Kafka as an instruction manual, we now have a senior robotics researcher taking a page from Verhoeven’s Robocop:

Nonetheless, the trend is clear: warfare will continue and autonomous robots will ultimately be deployed in its conduct. Given this, questions then arise regarding how these systems can conform as well or better than our soldiers with respect to adherence to the existing Laws of War. This article focuses on this issue directly from a design perspective.

This is no simple task however. In the fog of war it is hard enough for a human to be able to effectively discriminate whether or not a target is legitimate. Fortunately for a variety of reasons, it may be anticipated, despite the current state of the art, that in the future autonomous robots may be able to perform better than humans under these conditions…

Pretty sweet, huh? Autonomous robot killers that will do a better job of protecting civilians and defeating opposing forces. What’s not to like?

Lacking from this overall affective approach is the ability to introduce compassion as an emotion at this time, which may be considered a serious deficit. It is less clear how to introduce such a capability, but by requiring the autonomous system abide strictly to the LOW [Laws Of War] and ROE [Rules Of Engagement], one could contend that it does exhibit compassion: for civilians, the wounded, civilian property, other noncombatants, and the environment. Compassion is already, to a significant degree, legislated into the LOW, and the ethical autonomous agent architecture is required to act in such a manner.

Mmm hmm. This guy actually believes that compassion is already legislated into the laws of war, and he further believes that military leaders will deploy robots that strictly adhere to these laws of war…

Don’t take my word for it: read the whole (117 page!) thing.

Bush Pledges to Break the Law (Again)
Posted on January 30th, 2008 at 4:09 pm by Steve

The national media seem to be ignoring it, but Resident Bush has once again brazenly proclaimed his intention to directly violate laws passed by the People of the United States in Congress Assembled:

President Bush this week declared that he has the power to bypass four laws, including a prohibition against using federal funds to establish permanent US military bases in Iraq, that Congress passed as part of a new defense bill.

Bush made the assertion in a signing statement that he issued late Monday after signing the National Defense Authorization Act for 2008. In the signing statement, Bush asserted that four sections of the bill unconstitutionally infringe on his powers, and so the executive branch is not bound to obey them.

As usual, the Boston Globe’s Charlie Savage is pretty much the only one on the case.

In a sane world, wouldn’t the Executive’s proclamation that he intends to violate the letter and spirit of the law be cause for some concern? Is anyone even paying attention anymore?

Go Anywhere in the Universe!!!
Posted on January 30th, 2008 at 9:53 am by dr.hoo

With this free downloadable software, Celestia (Mac, PC, Linux) you can travel throughout the solar system, to any of over 100,000 stars, or even beyond the galaxy. All movement in Celestia is seamless; the exponential zoom feature lets you explore space across a huge range of scales, from galaxy clusters down to spacecraft only a few meters across. I recommend starting out using the “Browser” to select destinations.

Posted on January 29th, 2008 at 6:16 pm by Agent B

“we seek less complex, more versatile tools: accessible, yet fundamentally adaptable. we believe these parameters are most directly achieved through minimalistic design, enabling users to more quickly discover new ways to work, play, and connect. we see flexibility not as a feature, but as a foundation.”


“Oh no. Beta!”
Posted on January 28th, 2008 at 3:01 pm by Mutt

Did Blu-Ray just win the HD DVD format war?  From an article in Today’s NYT:

LOS ANGELES — One week after Warner Brothers Entertainment announced that it was abandoning its support for the next-generation HD DVD format in favor of the Blu-ray high-definition format, consumers abandoned HD DVD.

And McCain’s says “Soviet Lechmere”.
Posted on January 26th, 2008 at 8:28 pm by MiniTrue

The Boston Globe has an article online (looks to be in tomorrow’s paper) featuring commentary from two employees of The Font Bureau about the typographical choices of the, uh, leading presidential candidates and what those choices say… which may or may not be what the candidate intended or wants.

Most interesting line: “If we were to predict the results based on typography and design, we would pick McCain and Obama.”

Best snide comment (about Romney’s choice): “The eagle logo has the head of the US Postal Service logo and body of the Norwegian flag flowing behind it. Not sure what that means.”

Robot Drug Dealers?
Posted on January 26th, 2008 at 2:36 am by dr.hoo

Wow. CA rocks.

Check out the WEED ATM

U. S. Deports American Citizens
Posted on January 25th, 2008 at 12:31 pm by Steve

Memo to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement: Kafka’s The Trial is not an instruction manual!

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has held Warziniack for weeks in an Arizona detention facility with the aim of deporting him to a country he’s never seen. His jailers shrugged off Warziniack’s claims that he was an American citizen, even though they could have retrieved his Minnesota birth certificate in minutes and even though a Colorado court had concluded that he was a U.S. citizen a year before it shipped him to Arizona. 

The real money quote comes from the ICE official near the bottom of the story:

“The burden of proof is on the individual to show they’re legally entitled to be in the United States,” said ICE spokeswoman Kice. 

As they say on the blogs, read the whole thing (it’s a McClatchy article). A commenter on the article adds this joke from the old Soviet Union:

One day a bear is walking along when he sees all the animals running out of the forest. He stops a rabbit and asks what’s happening.

“Run for your life!” the rabbit says. “The KGB is catching and castrating all the camels!”

“Why should I worry?” says the bear. “I’m not a camel.”

“After the KGB has cut off your balls, try to prove it!”


How chilling is it that morbid jokes from the Soviet Union now have a resonance here in the United States?

Predictive Satire?!
Posted on January 25th, 2008 at 11:47 am by Steve

I’ve always believed The Onion is hilarious and perceptive. And I even think I realized, at the time, that they were prescient when they published, on January 17, 2001, an article headlined, “Bush: ‘Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity Is Finally Over.’”

But, I didn’t realize just how prescient this article really was:

Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

On the economic side, Bush vowed to bring back economic stagnation by implementing substantial tax cuts, which would lead to a recession, which would necessitate a tax hike, which would lead to a drop in consumer spending, which would lead to layoffs, which would deepen the recession even further.


At least they didn’t sent them to Guantanamo
Posted on January 24th, 2008 at 9:02 pm by MiniTrue

The Guardian reports on a UK mother who came down with pneumonia on a Christmas shopping trip to New York City. Her two daughters were told they couldn’t wait at the hospital, that a foster family would be found for them. And instead, they were taken to an orphanage. And…

…they were separated, strip-searched and questioned before being kept under lock and key for the next 30 hours.

The mother checked herself out of the hospital against medical advice because she was told her daughters could not leave the orphanage. Now she’s in receipt of a letter from the NY Administration for Children’s Services because…

she’s under investigation.

Because her kids were placed in an orphanage.

Imagine if she wasn’t white and English wasn’t her native language… or she wasn’t from the United Kingdom, but a country in the Middle East.

Did America ever really exist, or was it just a nice story to tell little kids in grade school?  

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