07 Mar 2005

Justice Ain’t the Same as Wisdom

The United States Department of Justice announced today that it would be making a radical purchasing decision: stop dealing with the firm it considers an illegal monopoly. No more Microsoft Word at Main Justice. So they will spend $13 million to acquire Word Perfect licenses from Corel. Did they consider OpenOffice at $0? Why bother—Let’s just cut Social Security benefits instead.

permalink | politics/govt-software | 2005.03.07-20:17.00

16 Feb 2005

Freedom and the Robot Army

The eighteenth-century British North American aristocrats who created the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights had learned from the English politicians of the seventeenth century that a professional army is the surest pillar of despotism. They hoped that, under North American conditions, reliance on a citizen militia organized by the States, rather than an Army under the control of the Federal Government, would be a sufficient protection against tyranny.

The twentieth century showed that the value of a professional army used against citizens seeking political change was not limited by the balance of military force: citizens armed, no matter how heavily, cannot withstand a conflict with a modern military remorselessly applied. But remorseless application of armies against their own compatriots became difficult in many parts of the world in the latter twentieth century, as new means of communication amplified “people power.” The Chinese Communist Party achieved at Tien An Men what the Polish, East German, Czechoslovak, Philippine, Georgian, Ukranian and other regimes could not: even in crumbling dictatorships, the televised massacre of citizens is more than most armies, however ruthlessly led, will undertake.

The twenty-first century will be different. The United States will lead the way. The Pentagon is investing heavily in the development of robot infantry. Given the resources it will bring to bear, within two decades we will see the introduction of machines that remove all sense of consequences, personal and social, from the business of killing. Robot infantry may or may not prove valuable battlefield soldiers. In specialized roles they will probably succeed in being more cost-effective than human combatants. But at the violent suppression of political unrest they will be unparalleled. A brigade or two will be within the budget of every autocrat faced with a green or orange or red revolution.

We won’t need them to be torturers, however. For that, as we have learned, human volunteers are always available.

permalink | politics/constitution | 2005.02.16-22:18.00