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We Need to Stop Killer Robots from Taking Over the World
Nick Bostrom’s job is to dream up increasingly lurid scenarios that could wipe out the human race: Asteroid strikes; high-energy physics experiments that go wrong; global plagues of genetically-modified superbugs; the emergence of all-powerful computers with scant regard for human life—that sort of thing.
In the hierarchy of risk categories, Bostrom’s specialty stands above mere catastrophic risks like climate change, financial market collapse and conventional warfare.
As the Director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, Bostrom is part of a small but growing network of snappily-named academic institutions tackling these “existential risks”: the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge; the Future of Life Institute at MIT and the Machine Intelligence Research Institute at Berkeley. Their tools are philosophy, physics and lots and lots of hard math.
Five years ago he started writing a book aimed at the layman on a selection of existential risks but quickly realized that the chapter dealing with the dangers of artificial intelligence development growth was getting fatter and fatter and deserved a book of its own. The result is Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. It makes compelling—if scary—reading.
The basic thesis is that developments in artificial intelligence will gather apace so that within this century it’s conceivable that we will be able to artificially replicate human level machine intelligence (HLMI).
Once HLMI is reached, things move pretty quickly: Intelligent machines will be able to design even more intelligent machines, leading to what mathematician I.J. Good called back in 1965 an “intelligence explosion” that will leave human capabilities far behind. We get to relax, safe in the knowledge that the really hard work is being done by super-computers we have brought into being.
When I started working with actual criminals, I realized that they were easier to get along with because they knew how bad things could get.
At 27, Carey McWilliams became the first totally blind person in the USA to acquire a conceal and carry permit. Despite weapons training during his ROTC years, McWilliams has faced opposition to his right to bear arms from both the media and public officials.
Once fervently against hunting, McWilliams now views hunting as a way to connect to a system greater than himself and cope with PTSD brought on by a recent violent dog attack. In his down time, he carries a loaded pistol to the grocery store.
VICE headed to North Dakota to witness life as America’s foremost blind outdoorsman and gun enthusiast.
You Can Kill Anyone with Your Car, As Long As You Don’t Really Mean
On May 29 of last year, Bobby Cann left the Groupon offices in Chicago, where he worked as an editorial tools specialist. Traveling north on his bicycle, he rode up wide, sunny Larrabee Street. As he entered the intersection at Clybourn Avenue, a Mercedes SUV traveling over 50 miles per hour slammed into him from behind. The impact threw Cann into the air. He landed unconscious, blood streaming out of his mouth and his left leg severed. Bystanders, including a registered nurse, rushed to help. Shortly after transport to a nearby hospital, he died.
What makes Cann’s story notable among the 700 or so bicyclists who are hit and killed in America each year is that San Hamel faces charges in Cann’s death. According to a recent report by the League of American Bicyclists, barely one in five drivers who end bicyclists’ lives are charged with a crime. The low prosecution rate isn’t a secret, and has inspired many towonder whether plowing into a cyclist with a car is a low-risk way to commit homicide.
The Cann case is an exception that proves the rule. “The criminal case is sort of about the outrageous nature of what happened,” Todd Smith, a civil attorney for Cann’s family, concedes. “[San Hamel was] driving under the influence on the city streets where things are congested, and [there was] the complete lack of braking of any sort, the enormous impact of a car of thousands of pounds going in excess of 50 miles per hour, hitting just the human body.” San Hamel’s blood alcohol level was 0.127 at the time of the crash.
Bicyclists who pushed for prosecution also helped the cause. Last summer, over 5,000 people signed a petition asking state’s attorney Anita Alvarez to refuse a plea bargain from San Hamel. Local activist Robert Kastigar, who started the petition, says he believes it encouraged the state to pursue the case. A representative of Chicago advocacy group Active Transportation Alliance says the involvement of activists is likely to influence stiffer sentencing.
Nationwide, incidents like Cann’s often result in misdemeanor charges, tickets, or nothing. Leah Shahum from the San Francisco Bike Coalition told the New York Times last year that her organization does “not know of a single case of a cyclist fatality in which the driver was prosecuted, except for D.U.I. or hit-and-run.” Kristin Smith, also of the SF Coalition, says that “Last year, four people were hit and killed in San Francisco and no charges were ever brought,” including for a collision captured on video that showed the driver was at fault. Last year in New York City, the bike advocacy organization Time’s Up pushed for changes in police investigations of bicyclist deaths by painting chalk body outlines on streets, marked with words familiar from NYPD reports: “No Criminality Suspected.”
The most popular Slendervlogs have viewer counts well into six figures, many of them likely to be old children or young adults, and we don’t see hundreds of kids taking to the woods with kitchen knives… or at least not outside of the fevered imaginations of Daily Mail hacks. Whatever happened to these two children to make them into killers was almost entirely unique to their particular circumstances.
Nothing on these sites told them to kill a child; they decided that for themselves, and the truth is we have absolutely no idea why.
The first thing the Nazi garrison on Vågsøy Island, Norway, would have heard when the British No. 3 Commando battalion landed on December 27, 1941 was the sudden blaring drone of bagpipes. One commando stood at the fore of the landing craft, facing the impending battle and playing the peppy, martial “March of the Cameron Men.” Upon coming to a halt onshore, the soldier jumped from the craft, hucked a grenade at the Germans, then drew a full sword and ran screaming into the fray.
That maniacally fierce soldier was 35-year-old Lieutenant Colonel John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill, and his stunts at this battle, known as Operation Archery, were hardly the most bizarre and semi-suicidal of his life. Over the course of World War II, “Mad Jack,” as he came to be known, survived multiple explosions, escaped a couple of POW camps, captured over 40 Germans at sword point in just one raid, and in 1940 scored the last recorded longbow kill in history. And that’s just the CliffsNotes on his wartime rap sheet.
For many war junkies and badass aficionados, Mad Jack’s exploits are the epitome of military romanticism. His recorded statements, full of swagger like, “any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed,” and, “I maintain that, as long as you tell a German loudly and clearly what to do, if you are senior to him he will cry ‘jawohl’ and get on with it enthusiastically and efficiently,” seem like the physical manifestation of some mid-century boy’s adventure tale. The Royal Norwegian Explorers Club found him such a paragon of brawn and endeavor that, in a book released this March, they named him one of the greatest adventurers of all time.
Not much is known about Churchill’s youth, save that he graduated from Britain’s premier Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1926 and, at age 20, was shipped off to Burma, where he spent the next few years driving his motorcycle around the region. Possibly bored by a long peacetime, Churchill left the army for a period in 1936 and spent some time as a Nairobi newspaper editor, male model, and a bagpipe-playing, arrow-shooting extra in films like The Thief of Baghdad and A Yank at Oxford. By the end of the decade, he’d become so obsessed with the pipes that he took second place in a 1938 military piping competition at the Aldershot Tattoo, causing a mild scandal because an Englishman had beat out so many Scots. The next year, his archery habit landed him a place as Britain’s shooter at the World Archery Championship in Oslo.
As soon as the Nazis invaded Poland and war became imminent, though, Churchill rushed to the battlefield. The longbow came out almost immediately during the Allied retreat to Dunkirk, France, in mid 1940. He took to practicing guerilla tactics, staging raids, and earning commendations for his bravery, even surviving a clipping by machine gun fire. Then, while watching a German force advance from a tower in the little village of L’Epinette, Churchill signaled his attack by shooting a Nazi sergeant through the chest with a barbed arrow, immediately followed by a hail of bullets from two fellow infantrymen in tow.
Is the Military About to Allow Transgender Soldiers?
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel caused a bit of a stir over the weekend when he said that the US military’s ban on transgender soldiers “continually should be reviewed" during an appearance on ABC’s The Week. In addition to reminding everyone that Sunday talk shows aren’t just several hours of teeth gnashing and inhuman wailing, Hagel raised a few eyebrows among LGBT advocacy organizations, as his remarks come in the wake of a March report issued by the Palm Center that estimated some 15,000 transgender people are surreptitiously serving in the armed forces right now in addition to 130,000 or so trans veterans in the population at large.
But does Hagel’s vague promise to take another look at the issue—coupled with his forthright declaration that “every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it”—mean the Pentagon is actually going to change its policies? One encouraging sign came Wednesday when military officials announced they were considering a request from Chelsea Manning, the former intelligence officer charged with leaking troves of classified documents to Wikileaks in 2010, to be transferred to a civilian prison for gender treatment therapy. Indeed, the latest report suggests Hagel has already approved the request and it’s just a question of working out the logistics. More broadly, transgender advocates and military observers I spoke to are actually quite optimistic about the prospects for reform, even if the timeline remains cloudy at best.