Drones that kill on their own

On the horizon of military technology:  Drones that “decide” on their own whom to kill:

One afternoon last fall at Fort Benning, Ga., two model-size planes took off, climbed to 800 and 1,000 feet, and began criss-crossing the military base in search of an orange, green and blue tarp.

The automated, unpiloted planes worked on their own, with no human guidance, no hand on any control.

After 20 minutes, one of the aircraft, carrying a computer that processed images from an onboard camera, zeroed in on the tarp and contacted the second plane, which flew nearby and used its own sensors to examine the colorful object. Then one of the aircraft signaled to an unmanned car on the ground so it could take a final, close-up look.

Target confirmed.

This successful exercise in autonomous robotics could presage the future of the American way of war: a day when drones hunt, identify and kill the enemy based on calculations made by software, not decisions made by humans. Imagine aerial “Terminators,” minus beefcake and time travel.

The Fort Benning tarp “is a rather simple target, but think of it as a surrogate,” said Charles E. Pippin, a scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, which developed the software to run the demonstration. “You can imagine real-time scenarios where you have 10 of these things up in the air and something is happening on the ground and you don’t have time for a human to say, ‘I need you to do these tasks.’ It needs to happen faster than that.”

The demonstration laid the groundwork for scientific advances that would allow drones to search for a human target and then make an identification based on facial-recognition or other software. Once a match was made, a drone could launch a missile to kill the target. . . .

Research into autonomy, some of it classified, is racing ahead at universities and research centers in the United States, and that effort is beginning to be replicated in other countries, particularly China.

“Lethal autonomy is inevitable,” said Ronald C. Arkin, the author of “Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots,” a study that was funded by the Army Research Office.

Arkin believes it is possible to build ethical military drones and robots, capable of using deadly force while programmed to adhere to international humanitarian law and the rules of engagement. He said software can be created that would lead machines to return fire with proportionality, minimize collateral damage, recognize surrender, and, in the case of uncertainty, maneuver to reassess or wait for a human assessment.

In other words, rules as understood by humans can be converted into algorithms followed by machines for all kinds of actions on the battlefield.

via A future for drones: automated killing – The Washington Post.

The article alludes to “ethical” and “legal” issues that need to be worked out with this particular technology.  Like what?  Is automating war to this extent a good idea?  Does this remove human responsibility and guilt for taking a particular human life?  Might this kind of technology develop, eventually, into a military without actual human beings in overt combat?  How could this be abused?

The most popular politician in America. . .

. . .is Hillary Clinton:

The most popular national political figure in America today is one who was rejected by her own party three years ago: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans hold a favorable view of her and one-third are suffering a form of buyer’s remorse, saying the U.S. would be better off now if she had become president in 2008 instead of Barack Obama. . . .

While 34 percent say things would be better under a Clinton administration, almost half — 47 percent — say things would be about the same and 13 percent say worse. . . .

Republicans are slightly more inclined than the national average to think the U.S. would be better off with Clinton running the country, with 39 percent saying so. A majority of Democrats — 57 percent — say things would be the same. . . .

A plurality of Tea Party supporters — 44 percent — say the U.S. would be better off with Hillary Clinton as president, even though 59 percent of those respondents have an unfavorable impression of her. . . .

She is more likable to women, with 68 percent holding a favorable view, compared to 59 percent of men. All age groups hold favorable views of Clinton, although those 65 years and older are more fawning, with 68 percent in that group holding a favorable view.

Ninety percent of Democrats like Clinton, compared to 35 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of independents.

Those in the northeast U.S. are her biggest backers, with 77 percent there holding a favorable view, compared to 59 percent in the South and West and 64 percent in the Midwest.

via Clinton Popularity Prompts Buyer’s Remorse – Bloomberg.

 

More on the great Ponzi scheme

Charles Krauthammer explains in detail why Social Security is indeed a Ponzi scheme, as we discussed here in an earlier post:  “In a Ponzi scheme, the people who invest early get their money out with dividends. But these dividends don’t come from any profitable or productive activity — they consist entirely of money paid in by later participants.  This cannot go on forever because at some point there just aren’t enough new investors to support the earlier entrants.” This is exactly what the pay-as-you-go funding of Social Security involves.

He goes on to say that the mandatory nature of Social Security makes it work longer than the Bernie Madoff schemes.  Then he gives some interesting statistics:

You can force young people into Social Security, but if there just aren’t enough young people in existence to support current beneficiaries, the system will collapse anyway.

When Social Security began making monthly distributions in 1940, there were 160 workers for every senior receiving benefits. In 1950, there were 16.5; today, three; in 20 years, there will be but two.

Now, the average senior receives in Social Security about a third of what the average worker makes. Applying that ratio retroactively, this means that in 1940, the average worker had to pay only 0.2 percent of his salary to sustain the older folks of his time; in 1950, 2 percent; today, 11 percent; in 20 years, 17 percent. This is a staggering sum, considering that it is in addition to all the other taxes he pays to sustain other functions of government, such as Medicare, whose costs are exploding.

The Treasury already steps in and borrows the money required to cover the gap between what workers pay into Social Security and what seniors take out. When young people were plentiful, Social Security produced a surplus. Starting now and for decades to come, it will add to the deficit, increasingly so as the population ages.

Demography is destiny.

via A Ponzi scheme that should be fixed – The Washington Post.

Evil eyes

As you will have noticed, I am interested in language, idioms, figures of speech, and imagery.  Our pastor’s sermon, which is worth reading in its entirety, looked at a Biblical expression that is usually translated away.  Rev. Douthwaite was preaching on Matthew 20:1-16, the parable about how the laborers were all getting paid the same, even though some worked longer than others, and told the Master that he was being unfair:

Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? Now, those last words there are a bit of a paraphrase. The original puts it like this: Or is your eye evil because I am good? That gives us a bit more to work with here, especially because just a couple of weeks ago, we heard Jesus say: And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire (Matthew 18:9).

Now, usually – and as I talked about that in the sermon two weeks ago – we usually think of “our eyes causing us to sin” in terms of seeing things we should not see. And a common example of that are the sexually-charged images all around us in the world today – in movies, on TV, and in advertising – stirring up lustful and impure thoughts in our hearts. And that’s certainly true. But here today, Jesus is, perhaps, giving us another way to think about that: that the “evil eye” we need to beware of is not just what goes into our eyes, but – in a sense – what comes out of them. How we look at other people. How we look at God. Do we give them, and God, an “evil eye?”

That’s what those disgruntled workers in the vineyard were doing. They were giving an “evil eye” to the owner’s generosity and their fellow workers’ good fortune. And this “evil eye” perhaps caused them to resent their fellow workers, and certainly to resent the owner. He was wrong. He was unfair. He was . . . evil.

And that is the danger for you and me today. A constant danger. That we will look at others and their life and what they have received with an “evil eye,” thinking them unworthy, magnifying their sin, and resenting the good they have received. Then that we will look at ourselves, and with an “evil eye” think more highly of ourselves than we ought, belittle our sins, and think that we have deserved better. And then that we will finally look at God with an “evil eye” and judge Him! That He is wrong. That He is unfair. That He is not giving as He should. That He is . . . not good.

You’ve thought that. I know you have. For that’s what’s behind all of our “why” questions. When we ask: Why me, Lord? when something bad happens to us. When we ask: Why him and not me, Lord? when something good happens for someone else. Why did you do that, Lord? Are there not judgments in those questions? An implication that something is not right, not fair, not deserved?

And so we need to repent. And learn to see with “good” eyes, God eyes, faith eyes, eyes that have been renewed by the Gospel. And it is not impossible to do so. For while what the prophet Isaiah says is true: that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways, our Lord has given you His Word and Spirit, that you might know His thoughts and ways; that you know His goodness toward you, and learn to see with new eyes, good eyes, Gospel eyes.

Those eyes do not look at others and what they have. They do not look at ourselves and what we don’t have. They don’t look into heaven and try to figure out what God is doing and why. Gospel eyes look to the cross.

For there is where we see most of all that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways. For there we see the one who truly bore the burden of the work and the heat of the day. There we see that with God there is no negotiating or re-negotiating, but the 100% unadulterated harshness of the Law, and the 100% pure sweetness of the Gospel. And that it cannot be any other way.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 14 Sermon.

Taxes & government manipulation

The Washington Post has a big story about tax breaks.

As President Obama and congressional Republicans argue over how to rewrite the U.S. tax code, the debate has revolved around “loopholes” for corporate jets and ending “carve-outs” for well-heeled special interests. But if the goal is debt reduction, that’s not where the money is.

Broad tax breaks granted to millions of families at all income levels dwarf the corporate giveaways. Over the past two years, largely because of these popular benefits in the federal income tax code, the government has reached a rare milestone in tax collection — it has given away nearly as much as it takes in.

The number of tax breaks has nearly doubled since the last major tax overhaul 25 years ago, with lawmakers adding new benefits for children, college tuition, retirement savings and investment. At the same time, some long-standing breaks have exploded in value, such as the deduction for mortgage interest and the tax-free treatment of health-insurance premiums paid by employers.

All told, federal taxpayers last year received $1.08 trillion in credits, deductions and other perks while paying $1.09 trillion in income taxes, according to government estimates.

Only about 8 percent of those benefits went to corporations. (The write-off for corporate jets equals about .03 percent of the total.) The bulk went to private households, primarily upper-middle-class families that Obama has vowed to protect from new taxes.

“The big money is in the middle-class subsidies,” said Syracuse University economist Leonard Burman, former director of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. “You’re not going to balance the budget by eliminating ethanol credits. You have to go after things that really matter to a lot of people.”

via Ever-increasing tax breaks for U.S. families eclipse benefits for special interests – The Washington Post.

I reject the way these tax breaks are called “tax expenditures,” since that implies that all money is the government’s and that letting us keep part of it is government largesse.  Still, it is definitely true that the tax code is one way the government tries to control the economy and to manipulate citizens according to one policy or the other.

The government wants to encourage home ownership, so it makes mortgage interest tax deductible.  It wants us to use alternative energy, so it not only gives the ethanol industry a big break, it gives consumers write-offs when they buy energy-efficient products.   It wants us to buy health insurance, so there are tax incentives towards that end. And there are lots more.   Add in the corporate tax incentives, which are aimed at nudging the economy in one direction or the other, and tax policy plays a major role–along with government spending–in the great Keynesian project of state control over the free market.

So should conservatives be in favor of every tax break, just because it means someone is paying less taxes, even if it is an attempt by the government to control the economy?

Should we just have a flat tax or a range of flat taxes?  What do you think of   Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan (9% income tax; 9% corporate tax; 9% sales tax)?  Would that wreak too much havoc in the housing market?  With churches and other non-profits that depend on tax-deductible donations?

 

 

Liberals and their language

George Will, picking up on some themes we have blogged about here, notes not only the ineffectualness of liberal solutions to our economic woes, but how they are running away from their own language:

In societies governed by persuasion, politics is mostly talk, so liberals’ impoverishment of their vocabulary matters. Having damaged liberalism’s reputation, they call themselves progressives. Having made the federal government’s pretensions absurd, they have resurrected a supposed synonym for the government, the “federal family.” Having made federal spending suspect, they advocate “investments” — for “job creation,” a euphemism for stimulus, another word they have made toxic.

Barack Obama, a pitilessly rhetorical president, continues to grab the nation by its lapels, demanding its attention, and is paying the price: The nation is no longer listening. This matters because ominous portents are multiplying. [Will goes ahead and cites some of them, including the bright idea of the administration's economic advisors to purposefully induce inflation]  . . .

It is a wonder, this faith-based (and often campus-based) conviction that the government that brought us the ethanol program can be trusted to precisely execute wise policies that will render the world predictable and progressive. . . .

The economic policy the “federal family” should adopt can be expressed in five one-syllable words: Get. Out. Of. The. Way. Instead, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, whose department has become a venture capital firm for crony capitalism and costly flops at creating “green jobs,” praises the policy of essentially banishing the incandescent light bulb as “taking away a choice that continues to let people waste their own money.” Better to let the experts in his department and the rest of the federal family waste other people’s money.

 

via Our floundering ‘federal family’ – The Washington Post.


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