Daily briefing

Ban killer robots while we can

Proteste gegen Militärroboter, London
Source: DPA

It’ll never manage, but the UN wants countries to ban lethal autonomous weapons systems. Automated guns and artificially intelligent drones are theoretically operated by people, but technology also allows them to decide which people or vehicles to target thanks to sensors and software. Just because artificial intelligence can make those decisions doesn’t mean that it should. People shouldn’t delegate to machines the decision whether to kill, says Thomas Küchenmeister, whose NGO supports the initiative. Countries are now gathered in Geneva to debate a new international law, which is good, but states known to be developing the systems – such as France, Israel, Russia, the UK and the US – are against a ban, which is bad. Machines can’t perceive context, so the risk is too great that people will be killed even more unjustly than at present. An AI researcher at Amnesty International, Rasha Abdul Rahim, says we are sliding towards a future where humans could be erased from use-of-force decision-making. Legislation lags technological development wherever we look, but in this case, lives are at stake.

I’m watching yet more dirt emerge about Dieselgate. On the same day that Larry Thompson updates on VW’s progress addressing the scandal, research by German media shows that the then-CEO of VW, Martin Winterkorn, was informed about the emission cheating a week before it became public in September 2015. Top management have long denied this knowledge and if found to be true, it has major implications for lawsuits, which are already manifold and costly. Mr. Thompson is the former deputy US attorney general tasked with keeping an eye on VW on-site. Today’s his first update since he was installed to monitor if the carmaker’s compliance with the plea agreement it entered with the US. Mr. Thompson is likely to take a critical view of this latest news but come on VW, why aren’t you trying harder to clean up your cars? And when, if not now, will you address the toxic culture at your company yourselves?

During the weekend, people partied against the right in Mecklenburg Western Pomerania. Jamel is a tiny village – pop. 37 – that became an enclave for the far-right, much to the chagrin of two artists who moved there in 2004 in search of a rural idyll. How did they decide to fight? With an annual music festival – as you do. This year, their event drew 1,200 dancers as well as Herbert Grönemeyer, Germany’s answer to Phil Collins. Despite arson attacks, the couple has kept on rocking, drawing acts over the years from Die Toten Hosen to Die Ärzte, Fettes Brot and Kraftklub.

It’s welcome good news, especially as outrage unfolds in Chemnitz and beyond. Early on Sunday morning, after a German man was killed, rather than mourning him, a thousand neo-Nazis declared an open hunt on migrants and refugees, as well as anyone who didn’t fit their cliché of what a genetic German looks like. The authorities are investigating and police called on people to refrain from spreading rumors, which span a media cover-up to multiple deaths. Would be nice if people would also refrain from racism, and respect and protect our fellow human beings.

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