Radical Instrument

IT is changing the exercise of power. Radical Instrument is picking up the signals.

Posts Tagged ‘AntiMoore’s Law

Killer robots for peace?

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John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org has a baffling piece in today’s Washington Post, in which he argues that advances in military robotics could provide such an advantage as to all but cement a new Pax Americana. Even genocide could become a “thing of the past,” policed and prevented by killer robots. 

I’ll avoid Terminator references, but offer a few arguments to deflate Mr. Pike’s optimism:

1.  There are fewer and fewer true “battlefields.” The column scarcely mentions the term “battlefield,” giving the impression of something static, neutral, and removed from populated areas – a place where robots and human armies can duke it out in sanitary conditions. Assuming rates of urbanization continue on their present course, this scenario isn’t likely. Future conflicts stand a good chance of looking a lot more like Gaza today – more complex environments with far greater chances for civilian death and injury.

2.  The more complex the technology, the greater the risk of a catastrophic breakdown.  According to a 2004 GAO report, the Army’s Future Combat System (mentioned in the article), included, as of that writing, “18 advanced systems, 53 critical technologies, 157 complementary systems, and 34 million lines of software code.” GlobalSecurity.org itself noted in early 2008 that this had increased to 95.1 million lines of code, and we’re still several years away from a demonstration of the technology (as a point of comparison, Windows Vista has about 50 million lines of code). A single piece of malware – agent.btz – wreaked havoc on military networks earlier this year, if the reporting is to be believed. If it was indeed the case, would you trust genocide prevention, protection of civilians, or just plain military superiority to a more complex network of robots?

3.  Fog of war. Fog of war. Fog of war.  It can’t be said enough. Machines have a hard time with ambiguity and confusion. I’m not convinced that the right decision rules can be programmed in advance. Especially when you consider #1 and #2, above.

4.  Robots aren’t just made in the USA.  It’s not like the world is standing idly by while the U.S. pursues the development of more sophisticated UAVs and other technologies. Even Hizballah was flying drones three years ago. The advantage is unclear – and I suspect it might favor AntiMoore’s Law as much as it favors Moore’s Law.

Written by Mark

January 4, 2009 at 8:32 pm

Return of the Chinese warlord

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ISN Security Watch has a report on the sentencing of a local Chinese party official for running a mafia organization in the city of Tangshan. The report claims that the official in question had amassed “military-style” armaments through a front company, despite China’s ban on the ownership and sale of private arms. Raises the question of the CCP’s relationship to traditional guanxi networks, and the sustainability of the state’s monopoly on violence. If AntiMoore’s Law continues, what kinds of arrangements will states have to make to preserve their current role?

Written by Mark

December 1, 2008 at 11:39 am

Posted in Military & Security

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A new and disturbing kind of silence

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Anne Applebaum has written a clear-eyed analysis of what we know – and don’t yet know – about the horrific terrorist attacks in Mumbai. As she notes, what’s striking here – apart from the sheer evil of the attacks – is that the world still knows nothing about the attackers. 

Terrorism has changed, but not merely in its level of violence. The terrorist organizations of the pre-9/11 world were known, in the sense that they had a professional communications infrastructure to accompany and reinforce the political messages conveyed through violence. The IRA, Hezbollah, Baader-Meinhof … even al-Qaeda. There was little chance that the world missed the message, since it came with a press release, videotape, or statement read by a hostage. Why was this so prominent in, say, Lebanon in the 1980’s, and in Mumbai today? A few possible scenarios:

1.  The terrorist groups of the past were seeking some sort of political legitimacy, and thought they could achieve it. Some, including the IRA and Hezbollah, arguably did achieve a measure of political legitimacy. The attackers in Mumbai weren’t looking for legitimacy, or any other limited set of objectives. They’re part of a post-9/11 absolutism which seeks nothing less than the complete destruction of existing political systems. In other words, this isn’t terrorism – it’s war, which, thanks to AntiMoore’s Law, is now the province of individuals as much as it is countries.

2.  The communications strategies used in previous generations of terrorism don’t work. Terrorist groups can’t simply dominate a limited set of media channels as they might have in, say, 1983. More importantly, today’s media gives the target audience an opportunity to respond, in real time. This matters. Terror depends on media to magnify fear and isolation, to create a shock effect that inhibits any sort of counter-mobilization. You can’t do that without either (a) highly centralized and controlled media, which doesn’t exist today, or (b) an act that floods all channels through sheer magnitude (e.g., 9/11).

3.  Anonymity is the message. Elaine Scarry wrote a fascinating book which theorizes that torture functions psychologically by disassociating pain from the torturer – in other words, pain becomes a characteristic of the body’s environment (e.g., this room, this chair, etc. is causing me pain).  Terrorism post-9/11 is like torture:  an attempt to convince that pain and terror originate from the victim and the victim’s environment, rather than from the terrorist.

4.  It’s state-sponsored. War by proxy, much like Libya’s sponsorship of Pan Am 103 and the bombing of a Berlin nightclub in the 1980’s. But this scenario raises a question of rational political motives. There’s no obvious reason the most likely culprit in this scenario, Pakistan, would sponsor something like this. It seems much more likely an organization would want to taint Pakistan with this – see scenario #1, above.

I think we won’t know much more in a few weeks than we do now, at least not without investigation to ferret it out. I hope none of the scenarios above are right, but I suspect terrorism is going to continue to look a lot like numbers #1-3.

In the meantime, my thoughts are with the Mumbai victims. Make no mistake – acts like these are evil, pure and straightforward.

Written by Mark

November 29, 2008 at 2:57 pm

Posted in Terrorism

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Every (hu)man is an island

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Slashdot has a post on NVIDIA’s Tesla Personal Supercomputer – 4 TeraFLOPS on your desktop for under $10,000. Moore’s Law continues. 

For all the attention given Moore’s Law, it’s surprising that nobody has yet come up with a similar function to describe the rate of change in the capacity of the individual to inflict violence. After all, if there’s two things technology’s delivered over the last fifty years, it’s both phenomenal computing power and phenomenal killing power – both delivered into the hands of smaller and smaller groups, and increasingly into the hands of the individual. 

The confluence of Moore’s Law and…well, let’s call it AntiMoore’s Law…vest any single individual with a great deal of power. Arguably as much power as a minor state might have had in a pre-gunpowder age. Toss in the emerging move towards personal manufacturing, and you can see the outline of the next fifty years. Is it any wonder that nation-states everywhere are pushing against the boundaries of individual liberty?

Written by Mark

November 23, 2008 at 5:35 pm