Singularity be damned!

It’s the robotics revolution that is already here! It is reshaping our world in some important ways and most of us aren’t even noticing.

I attended a talk yesterday by Dr Peter Singer, of the Brookings Institution, about his new book, Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.  He outlined what is already happening on the ground around the world with robotic warfighting (e.g. stuff like this).

He opened with scene from Iraq – an IED on roadside and an EOD team sent out to search out and destroy them.  One of the ‘soldiers’ was blown up while trying to defuse an IED.  The commander wrote home to the factory where the soldier came from, saying “at least when a robot dies you don’t have to write home to its mother”.  An indicator of how important these EODs are to the insurgents is the US$50,000 bounty they’ve placed on the head of EOD members.
Predator_Drone_021.jpgIsrael & Hezbollah. Both sides flew drones against each other – even though one was a nation state & other was non state actor.

Another ripple effect is that robotics make war cheaper in terms of people costs by replacing them with machines. This is a real benefit in societies that frown upon deaths of individuals in the service of warfare. The social and political cost of war for governments and politicians drops considerably. The interesting thing pointed out by Singer is that this is happening without any debates in the legislature or in the media – we are seeing a creeping change without open debate as to the efficacy and morality of this technology.

Part of this new kind of warfare is that these machines record everything they see & this is changing the public’s vision or view of war. We are seeing the rise of YouTube wars. Some people are turning war into entertainment, or “war porn”. When video clips of war actions put to music and shown as entertainment – it is very easy to forget the violence is real.

The final issue that arises from this new kind of technology is that we are potentially turning our soldiers into war gamers rather than war fighters. Even now some of them just go to the office and direct drones from US mainland but go home at night to normal family life. This also has an impact on the demographics of war fighting. In the past strength and physical fitness were key. But, as Singer recounted, one of the top US pilots on drone systems is 19-year-old high school drop out. The skills required are changing so the nature of military institutions will need to change in response. In his examples Singer mentioned that some of these drivers don’t even meet they just talk online & only know each other’s handles.

There are some huge moral, social and legal issues that remain to be resolved in relation to this new military technology. Things like un-manslaughter, rules of engagement, etc. More on this later.

Perception, relationships & dialogue

~ There have been some really interesting responses from a variety of people regarding my involvement with CeBIT this year. I’m finding it quite fascinating, and have even been called a “cool kid” which, for someone who’s always been the quintessential library dwelling nerd, is fun to hear.

“If you never change your mind, why have one?”
— Edward de Bono

Here are some things that inform my thinking and writing …

  • This is a personal blog, I’m not a journalist and I comment on things that interest me, there is no real overarching theme.
  • I’m always willing to critique things (companies, people, policies) that  I don’t like or with which I disagree. Some folks like to call this ‘opinionated‘.
  • If the evidence changes, new evidence is brought to light, or I’m just plain wrong then I’m willing to change my position.
  • Very rarely do I seek to close down the dialogue between myself and others – even if we disagree.  Although sometimes we have to simply agree to disagree.
  • My opinions are merely opinions. Sometimes they are based on facts, sometimes they are based on hearsay, and sometimes (because I’m human) they’re based on prejudice. When possible prejudice on my part is brought to my attention I listen and often (but not always) change my opinion.
  • I value dialogue over monologue because without it relationships cannot grow. Collaboration, innovation and creation are all possible due to the interconnection of ideas and people.  Debate, dialogue and some kind of dialectical process drive them.  Shutting down possibilities by refusing dialogue means shutting down potential opportunities.
  • From time to time I argue just for the fun of it, and have been known to argue for points of view with which I disagree. Arguing from an opposing viewpoint can be a useful way of understanding issues.
  • I don’t waste energy on hating anyone or anything.  Although some people or things may really annoy me.
  • Sometimes I enjoy subverting hierarchy & deconstructing traditional institutions – it’s all in good fun & not intended for evil (keep any eye out for some flash mobs or similar). This is because I believe that humour can often be a force for revelations of truth about what we do and the need for change. It is also why LOLcats rule.
  • All of the above makes complete sense given my MBTI type = ENTP 😉

CeBIT Frolics

Believe it or not, I’ve attended CeBIT most years for ages. This is because, if you’re working in enterprise IT, it’s one of those conferences you and your boss tend to head along to together.

Over the years I thought it got a little stale and a bit predictable. But last year and this year the organisers have put in a big effort to refresh the format and content. This year CeBIT is having a web focused conference stream called WebForward@CeBIT.

On 14 May I’ll be joining Laurel Papworth, Stilgherrian, Nick Hodge, Hugo Ortega and chairman Jye Smith to discuss how you can “Capitalise on Social Media for Business”.

And, because I’m a panellist, I can access two tickets to the full 2-day conference at a discounted price of $178 + GST (instead of the listed $1295 + GST).

If you’d like to purchase one of these discounted tickets, let me know via email by 9am Sydney time on Wednesday 6 May. Explain why you’re deserving, and I’ll pick the two based on how I’m feeling at the time (whimsical I know, but that happens).

But wait, there’s more! If you miss out, you can still save $160 off the on-site registration price by using the promotional code carrwebca09 . Just insert the code when prompted during on-line registration at http://www.mycebit.com.au.

Note: I shamelessly “leveraged” this idea from Stilgherrian’s website because he did it first & I’m too busy at the moment to be original – thanks Stil 😉

FITT Lunch 13 May

I’ll be speaking at this session together with Karen Ganschow from Telstra. Should be an interesting lunch & good excuse to get out of the office for a while.

Topic:  How to make the Net work

When:  12:00pm – 2:00pm, Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Where:  Harbours Edge, Level 2, Harbourside Darling Harbour, NSW, Australia

More details on the FITT website:

A special value-for-money FITT luncheon on How to make the Net Work that will give you the chance to see just how using social media tools and technologies can really grow your brand, career and your business.

Held around CEBIT Conference & Exhibition (CeBIT has been the unrivalled Australian event for showcasing for IT, telecommunications, software and services), FITT members can attend CEBIT free of charge when attending the FITT event.

So, take a lunch break from CeBIT and join us at the wonderful Harbours Edge venue at Darling Harbour for a contemporary informal social luncheon. With fabulous gourmet finger food, wine and coffee & dessert, we have kept seating theatrette style rather than formal tables to ensure we keep events affordable. This does gives you every opportunity to circulate and network at leisure before our seated presentations.

Bookings here