Friday, July 28, 2006

posted by Elon

Robot generals

Being official contributers to this blog, we might as well take the prerogative to respond to each other in posts rather than the comments page.

So - to Ofer's "Cold-Hearted Halutz":

Ofer prefers a compassionate leader and an indifferent general. I prefer compassionate, moral leaders, generals and soldiers. True - except for extreme circumstances, soldiers, including generals, should obey orders. But an army of robots is a very dangerous thing (I am horrified by prospects suggested by the DARPA Grand Challenge, even though I find the technology used there beautiful). Armies encompass huge amounts of power. And with great power come great opportunities for abuse. For everyone. It is imperative that at every level in the chain of command, every person will have the moral strength to refuse to perform war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

The Israeli legal system is very progressive about this. There is a standing court ruling, given in the context of the Kfar Qasim massacre, that obliges every security personnel to NOT obey orders that are manifestly illegal. The ruling does not state what is a 'manifestly illegal' order. It states that "The distinguishing mark of a manifestly illegal order is that above such an order should fly, like a black flag, a warning saying: 'Prohibited!'." It will take a lot of improvement in AI for robots to be able to recognize and disobey such orders.

This progressive court ruling is far from being implemented. The battle fog, the social pressure from comrades-in-arms and the discipline embedded during training make it very difficult to identify the black flag in real time, and even harder to do the right thing and disobey the order.

As for Halutz - if a person does not feel a thing when dropping a 1 ton bomb on a civilian building, they stand no chance of seeing any black flag. I might be demanding too much, but I want soldiers that ache when they hurt civilians, even if this is a necessity, because soldiers that do not ache will not have trouble hurting civilians when it is not necessary and thus manifestly illegal.

I'll quote a song by Bertolt Brecht (even though every person that has ever thought about such things probably knows it):

It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men.
But it has one defect:
It needs a driver.

General, your bomber is powerful.
It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an elephant.
But it has one defect:
It needs a mechanic.

General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect:
He can think.

I wish it was enough that men can think. Most of them seem to prefer not to, especially as soldiers in war.

May peace arrive soon.


Blogger Ofer said...

But what if you have a radical general who intentionally wants to target civilians (e.g. Efi Eitam, former extremist general, turned right-wing politician). You can't have it both ways - either the generals are allowed to act upon their personal ideology, or not. I prefer - NOT.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Ofer said...

And another thing:

This "manifestly illegal" thing was invented to deal with the situation when a hot-headed lieutenant tells one of his soldiers "go and kill that civilian", it does not apply to the case where the PM gives a command to an army general.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Elon said...

First, morality is subjective, not objective. I want generals with the true morals (read: my morals), not fanatics who mistake their zealousness for morality.

In a more practical, pseudo legal tone, I think it is legitimate, and even desired, for a soldier to refuse to obey orders that are contrary to their conscience, and the emphasis here is on passive resistance. As an infantry soldier - hand your weapon to your commander and prepare to go to jail, but you can't point your weapon at your commander. As a general - resign, but you can't use your command to further your political goals, and you can't protest in any other manner but resigning (and, sometimes even resigning is refusing an order, for which you should be prepared to do jail time).

So, the right wing soldiers that refused to participate in the evacuation of Gaza are OK by in their refusal. They are of course, bad people because they hold a racist fanatic ideology, but that's another issue.

7:36 PM  
Blogger Ofer said...

What about a military paramedic who refuses to treat a wounded Palestinian child ? That's passive resistance, isn't it?

9:51 PM  
Blogger ran said...

When selecting soldiers for the SS the germans where very careful not to choose those that are racists and vandals. they wanted "good technicians". In the name of the law, in the name of science, a lot of evil is being done.
Right wing generals are at least honest about their goals and ideas (and thus open up the posibility to oppose them politically). With the "technicians", even they themselves do not grasp the degree of evil they promote.

1:28 AM  
Blogger Elon said...

A military paramedic refusing to treat someone is both disobeying an order and breaking the ethical code of medicine. For disobeying the order he should be regarded as any other soldier disobeying an order. For breaking the ethical code he should be treated like any other medical personnel refusing treatment of a person in need - severely - there is never any excuse for that.

2:04 AM  

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