Bernd Debusmann

More drones, more robots, more wars

Bernd Debusmann
Jan 31, 2012 15:44 UTC

Sometime in the next three decades, the U.S. military will be able to field robots that can make life-and-death decisions, operating without human supervision thanks to software and superfast computers.

But the technology to get to that point is running far ahead of considerations of the ethics of robotic warfare.

Or, as Peter Singer, a Brookings Institution scholar who has written widely on military robots has put it — technology grows at an exponential pace, human institutions at a linear, if not glacial, pace. That echoes an observation by the late science fiction writer Isaac Asimov that “science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”

The subject merits debate after the January 26 announcement that the Pentagon is planning to trim America’s armed forces by 100,000 while boosting the global fleet of armed drones, America’s most effective tool for the targeted killing of anti-American militants. So far, the drones are remotely operated, by pilots on bases in the United States.

But for a glimpse of how U.S. military thinkers see the future of the drone program, an 82-page report by the Air Force is recommended reading. Entitled “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047“, it says that “advances in AI (Artificial Intelligence) will enable systems to make combat decisions and act within legal and policy constraints without necessarily requiring human input.”

The dirtiest word on the campaign trail: Europe

Bernd Debusmann
Jan 20, 2012 16:36 UTC

Here we go again.

It’s an American election year which means a season to bash France, Europe and China as well as drawing attention to un-American skills by presidential hopefuls. Such as speaking in foreign tongues.

Mastering foreign languages is considered an asset in most parts of the world but clearly not in the United States, a fact highlighted by attack ads in the race for the nomination of a Republican candidate to run against President Barack Obama next November.

One television clip mocked Mitt Romney, the present frontrunner, for speaking French. Another featured Jon Huntsman, who dropped out of the contest this week, and suggested that his fluency in Mandarin meant that he subscribed to Chinese rather than American values.

American riddle: more guns, less violence?

Bernd Debusmann
Jan 6, 2012 15:29 UTC

Gun ownership in the United States is up. Violent crime is down. Is this a matter of cause and effect?

The question merits pondering on the January 8 anniversary of the Arizona mass shooting which killed six people, severely injured a member of congress, Gabrielle Giffords, and rekindled the seemingly endless on-and-off debate over gun regulations in the United States, the country with the greatest number of firearms in private hands.

Judging from the background checks gun dealers filed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), that number jumped by around 1.5 million in December, thanks partly to a spurt of buying around Christmas. For Arizona gun enthusiasts who left firearms out of their Christmas giving, gun shows in Tucson and Phoenix provide another shopping opportunity on the Giffords shooting anniversary.