The last one year has seen a series of rapid developments in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), along with reports of instances of the AI going out of control which have either been put under covers or dismissed for the fear of turning public opinion heavily against it. From the developments that have occurred over the last few months, it is evident that the major emerging field of AI is going to be in the field of military application as well as, increasingly, social and political control. Governments, all over the world, in collaboration with private companies, are leading the charge.
Unbeknown to the common man, the progression towards the AI is at a stage where it can no longer be reversed, making the world a much more dangerous place than ever and marking the beginning of a new era – a leap over industrial and IT revolutions and over the age of nuclear weapons in warfare. This will be unlike the previous phases of domestic and world affairs, where people were simply treated as large population groups and indiscriminating brute force underlined both hard and soft power.
The new era of AI dominance will amplify, several times, the intentions of selfishness and blind brutality of human nature, making it cold-blooded, minutely calculative and imbued with deadly precision. Unlike anything before it, it will likely combine psychoanalysis, analysis of emotions and behaviour of people, on a wide scale in a minute micro-targeted manner, perhaps turning us into mechanical servants of any future regime that controls technology.
The age of AI and its minute tampering with human psychology is likely to compound the psychological problems already facing mankind. With the levels of progress already made in this field, a reversal will not happen. Rather, everything now hinges on who controls and uses these new technologies. Unless blind materialism and selfishness gives way to higher consciousness among humans, the AI may be deployed leading to utter disaster.
Recent Developments in the AI
Recent developments in the AI bear witness to the dangerous and high levels of advancement that we have already crossed in this field. In most of the cases, the AI technology has borne fruition and is already in use, while in others patents have been filed for even more intricate levels of technology.
These developments have occurred at a fast pace in several directions. The major fields include:
- Development of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS);
- Attempts by governments (such as, China) to develop a social credit system based on facial recognition technology viz. direct micro-regulation of citizens through psychoanalysis. Imaging technologies based on AI are also being deployed best by Israel and are being used for military applications;
- Applications of the AI in fields like criminal and civil law, healthcare, manufacturing, finance and others. In manufacturing, AI use is pervasive. There was an incident in 2015 in a car manufacturing unit in Germany where a robot crushed the head of a factory worker who ventured inside the space where the robot was working. It was hushed up and branded an accident;
- Deployment of the AI by technology companies in tracking the preferences and behaviour of people, their complete profiling and movements, access to all their work and private records, and, imposing on them frivolous companionship of AI assistants for managing their homes and lives. Increasingly, these assistants would have all information about the users and can spy and send real-time information back to parent companies, store it for their own use or to be used by any party that controls AI.
- As human labour-saving device in agricultural, industrial and service sectors.
Out of all these areas, the development of completely autonomous, AI-controlled weapons system seems to be proceeding the fastest and posing an immediate and devastating threat to mankind. It is occurring in two directions. On the one hand, nations are building AI technologies that they can steer and control to their advantage. On the other hand, there are cases where AI – by the virtue of the logic of machine learning and continuous automatic upgradation – can go out of control of humans. Of the second type is the particularly shocking news coming from Japan. Recently, in a video that went viral and generated debate, a UFO scientist and explorer, Linda Howe, while speaking at the ‘Conscious of Life Expo’ at Los Angeles in February 2018 relayed an incident – told to her by an ex-US marine who had been doing contract work for US intelligence agencies – that 29 scientists in a lab in Japan were killed by 4 AI robots in 2017.
The following is the full transcript of Ms. Howe’s narration of the incident:
“On Saturday August 26 2017, not very long ago, I received a phone call from a whistle blower in the Intel world I’ve known for about a year and a half. He is an honorably discharged marine, but he continues to work on contracts with the CIA, NSA, DIA agencies. I always keep notebooks all over my house, my office, my car, everywhere so that I can write down a phone call that I can’t record or that I’m not in my studio to record.
So I wrote this down almost word for word.
At a top robotics company in Japan this week four robots being developed for military applications killed 29 humans in the lab. And they did it by shooting what he called metal bullets. I didn’t know there was any other kind.
The scariest part is that lab workers deactivated two of the robots, took apart the third, but the fourth began restoring itself and somehow connected to an orbiting satellite to download information about how it could rebuild itself even more strongly than before.
And this next sentence, this is a quote, I’m writing this down. I’ve been doing this for years.
This is serious shit Linda. But you’re never going to hear about this in the news. The robotics company has too much to lose, and the government wants AI robot soldiers. Close quote.”
After this incident was relayed by Ms. Howe at a public platform and she also clarified that even her Marine source received this information as a part of his contract work, immediate debate was generated. Pro-industry people are trying to see a conspiracy in this, but, in such a case, anything is possible. Nevertheless, it has generated a scare within the public.
It has raised questions about AI going out of control through programming errors or automatically upgrading its intelligence to the point where it starts taking its own decisions and violating human authority. And AI is programmed to do precisely that – the new generation of weapon systems and humanoid robots (like Sophia) are programmed to continuously upgrade their intelligence from external sources and to think and act independently. Since this, indeed, is the basic logic, then why are incidents like the one in Japan not possible or why do they evoke so much surprise? The whole affair is just a preview of what the future may look like.
Such incidents – though not at a large scale – of robots killing humans have happened before. It happened at a car manufacturing company in Germany in 2015 and was explained away as an accident. Recently, an automated self-driving car killed a pedestrian in U.S. – an incident in which nothing could be done and one which was not treated as a crime.
Nations, scientists and companies have already invested in and brought about the next AI revolution – all such incidents, even if true, will be hushed up by governments and companies. Worse still, it may not be possible to hold anybody responsible for deaths by robots.
The reason why the supposed Japan incident is not difficult to believe is because a controversy was also generated in South Korea recently for developing “killer robots”. In 2018, AI researchers called for boycotting a South Korean university for partnering with the country’s biggest defence manufacturer in manufacturing automated weapons system and providing a push to the development of killer machines. Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and its partner, defence manufacturer Hanwha Systems, are both well-known institutions in South Korea. Hanwha is one of South Korea’s largest weapons manufacturers and makes cluster munitions which are banned in 120 countries under an international treaty. But South Korea, US, Russia and China, are not signatories to this convention (Haas 2018).
Nations are heavily involved in ramping up their military technology and changing the nature of warfare. It is especially US, China, Russia, South Korea and Israel that are leading the charge in innovation, while India, UAE and Saudi Arabia continue to be major consumers of new defence technologies. The new technologies in this area are being built on already existing technologies in fighter air missile systems and drones that countries currently use, where there are provisions for automatic selection of range and targets.
This will become even more complete with the targets of war being entirely put under the discretion and control of machines. The growth of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) means that human intervention in warfare will gradually completely disappear. So will human control over machines. These are completely autonomous AI systems that can select and kill their own targets on the battlefield. Various technologies are coming up that accelerate the development of LAWS. These machines will independently control warfare across cyberspace, geo-space and space (CGS), that is, across internet, land boundaries and outer space.
Models exist in many forms. For example, South Korea’s Dodaam Systems already manufactures a fully autonomous ‘combat robot’ which can detect targets up to 3 km away. Due to “self-imposed restrictions”, right now only humans are allowed to guide its decision-making while preparing a lethal attack (Haas 2018). But in military warfare proper, fully autonomous weapons making their own decisions has already been decided as the way forward.
Unmanned aerial, land and marine vehicles are reaching more and more advanced stages of development. There were recently two incidents – coming in space of two weeks of each other – of drone sightings forcing first the Gatwick airport and next the Heathrow airport in UK to cancel flights and shut down temporarily. Authorities were not able to trace where the drones came from, since it is next to impossible to trace the source of these unmanned aerial vehicles or drones as they are called. The incidents are just a small harbinger of the national security threats – percolating to the everyday civilian domain – that nations would be expected to confront. Maybe the drones came from terrorists or from enemy countries, since they can be useful spying objects, especially if fitted with cameras. Even worse, in an age of autonomous AI we are working towards, such small future drones may operate through independent decision-making by machines themselves.
Whatever be the source, access to basic AI machines – like drones – is freely available even to a child. Neither the technology of developing it nor the prices are tough. A basic e-commerce website can offer a drone for a reasonable price. In India, various marriage ceremonies and other functions are using drones to get good pictures. They are being used for food delivery in some Indian cities. The extent of proliferation of drones is seen by data released during a government consultation in UK, where drones are being viewed as a serious problem. They have increased from 6 in 2014 to 93 in 2017 (Spero and Bond 2019). The government in UK is still struggling to control their sale through registration and regulation and by imposing no-fly zones around sensitive areas like airports. In the U.S., the proliferation is advancing at rapid speed with the help of the government, with active licenses being given out since 2012. According to the U.S’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), as many as 30,000 drones could be flying in the U.S. by 2020, spanning both public and private entities.
Drones or unmanned aerial vehicles are fast reaching sophisticated capabilities in warfare and surveillance too. Drones used by governments to spy on their citizens can carry heat sensors and live video cameras. The level of sophistication is evident from the fact that highly advanced drones can be made to stay in the air for several hours at a time, can survey a whole city and can even zoom in and read what’s written on a milk carton from 60,000 feet up in the air (Electronic Frontier Foundation 2019).
China is taking a lead in the surveillance revolution of AI. The ‘sharp eyes’ programme of the Chinese government is being used to develop a Social Credit System. Surveillance data on citizens will be collected from all cities and by 2020, the country will be able to rank their citizens in a social credit ladder based on the assessment of their behaviour and body language, including social norms and habits like how one crosses the street, whether one is dumping or burning waste, etc. China already has 176 million cameras installed in every block to watch its citizens round-the-clock. Repeat offenders will be tracked and can be under their guard.
While cameras on roads and public and private spaces will be used to register the gait, body language and faces of people, this data will be combined with further data that the government collects from people’s bank accounts, social media accounts, hospital records, institutions, work places etc. The overall result will be used in ranking people in their level of trustworthiness as citizens, and according to Chinese government goal, lead to a more ‘honest society’. People who rank well may be rewarded, while those ranking poorly will be socially ostracized and shamed, including denying them travel, hotel stays etc. (Associated Press 2018).
The Chinese government also hopes to expand the ambit of its social credit programme to multiple uses – preventing corruption in government bureaucracy which goes out of hand often, preventing pollution of rivers and maintaining high food quality, cracking down on terrorists and violent dissenters and so forth. People are already praising the system as it has led to zero theft in a few village areas.
In a recent instance in April 2018, the prowess of the system was revealed when the police used the opportunity of a crowded concert to zero down on wanted criminals who happened to be attending the event at that time. Out of a massive crowds of up to 60,000 people attending a pop concert, the police could utilize the records of this system to catch a few criminals present, who were wanted for theft cases from few years ago (Associated Press 2018).
The system is particularly popular among Chinese villagers and people. Parents have utilized the system to find their missing children successfully. They shrugged off hyped up concerns about ‘privacy’ violation by government or of human rights abuse, since the system seems to have brought stability and transparency in the Chinese society. It has reduced crime, made justice more accurate and induced people to change their behaviour out of fear.
Chinese government has been able to turn these surveillance applications of AI into a national asset, so far. The new technologies have become a way for a nation to assert its position in international affairs as well as to ensure domestic stability and to prevent rogue acts by national enemies.
Yet another case of social application of surveillance AI technology is happening in the U.S., which has been riddled by the tragedy of mass shootings, especially in schools. As psychological problems of people are increasing, so are such cases. Now schools in the U.S. and Mexico have started partnering with security firms to apply real time, AI-based, facial recognition technology to prevent shootings. CCTVs have become passé and unable to cope up. The ballistics detection technology can spot shooters, while there is consideration for introducing automated security robots to patrol school hallways for protecting children.
The K5 robot developed by Silicon Valley’s Knightscope is being considered. They can perform multiple functions, such as live streaming of videos, heat sensors, relaying information to connected phones and autonomous movements – they won’t be armed in the school use. They will be enabled to detect intruders and send information to authorities (Fussell 2018).
Whether this will be able to deal with the menace of mass shootings is yet to be seen. The experiment is different from the Chinese case. In China, the AI software being used is stationary and human-controlled. In the US, motion-enabled, autonomous humanoid robots are expected to police the humans, and that is a dangerous turn. There is no guarantee that a moving, autonomous machine will not itself pick up a gun and commit a few shootings, especially if it malfunctions or goes rogue.
The difference between the two kinds of social experiments in China and US is that while one country (China) is using the AI applications for its own purpose and is firmly in control of the technology as it places citizens better under the control of government, the other (U.S.) intends to deploy it to place humans under the control of robots.
The above cases of U.S and China shows that in commercially driven, ultra-utilitarian societies like U.S, the chances of misuse of the AI and of things going out of hand are higher. Developments in warfare and civilian and military surveillance have a clear commercial angle. Technology companies of U.S – like Google – are all set to rule the roost, data and information on people is the next biggest wealth and source of power. Western technology companies have the full backing of their governments, while Chinese companies are ostracized internationally and accused of intellectual property theft, the moment they look poised to overtake the West.
American companies are already heavily involved in helping the defence establishment of the U.S with the latest AI technologies. Last year, ‘Project Maven’ of Pentagon created a storm, as several Google employees resigned to protest against the company helping the Pentagon in a controversial military project based on machine learning. It involved using footages captured by drones in automatically classifying images, people and objects. While Google, under public and employee pressure, has pulled out of it, other big technology companies like Amazon and Microsoft continue to be a part of the project.
Besides the involvement of big technology companies in military applications of the AI, they are also fully exploiting the commercial angles. We are all familiar with the popular AI software floated by Google and Amazon, known as Google Assistant and Alexa respectively. They are programmed to listen to and execute voice commands given to them. Like any AI, they upgrade their knowledge by being connected to the information available on the Internet. If a home has smart appliances, such as smart lights, door locks and such, then a person can simply command the machine to turn off the light or lock the door or simply play the music, tell a joke or narrate the news and the task will be executed. Alexa is not a humanoid, but simply a black box, yet follows all commands within a smart home setup and converses like a normal human being. Within a few months of the launch of Alexa, users of the software have narrated a series of freak experiences with the software. There were complains that Alexa would speak up unwarranted, say something suddenly when not asked, or just laugh out aloud for no reason, make rude comments and berate people.
In developed countries like Canada and U.S., where smart homes setup is pervasive, the domination of the AI in people’s daily lives is happening faster. Incidents of children asking Alexa to help finish their homework are now commonplace. As if this were not enough, it has recently come to light that Google and Amazon had filed patent applications with the U.S government – as early as 2015 – competing over a technology wherein tiny smart speakers could be installed in our homes, which not only perform the conventional functions of playing music and other audio, but can become like a fly ‘spy’ in our lives (Vomiero 2018).
Their audio functions will be able to detect the emotional state of people of the house, recognize whether the person is child or adult and even judge when some ‘mischief’ is being done. For instance, Google, in its patent application has claimed that its tiny AI audio speaker can detect if a child is doing something wrong or is in his parents’ room or near a liquor cabinet and can accordingly send a warning to the parents and even to the child.
Likewise, Amazon, in its rival patent claims that its device could analyze people’s daily conversations, sense what kind of products are being used in the home and accordingly send them targeted product advertisements. This device can come installed in a number of products, unbeknown to us, such as e-readers, tablets, smartphones and other daily use devices.
The New Colonization
With AI getting mixed with utilitarian motive of unabated commercial greed and power, the result would be the concentration of power in the hands of a few corporates. Any new technological revolution is used to colonize and subjugate. And AI is the next step. Already, American global corporates like Google, Facebook and Twitter possess microscopic data about people, which they are using for commercial purposes. Already, a conflict is brewing as European and American corporates do not want any Asian company to enter the field and surpass them.
With China completely banning the web applications of American corporates and developing similar applications of its own through its own big global companies like Huawei, the tension is visible. Huawei’s top executive’s arrest in Canada at the U.S’s behest and the general threat being felt by Western countries at China’s technological advancement, attests to these conflicts. Accusations of clear theft of Intellectual Property by China, and the intense competition in the fields of space, defence technology, commercial technology and others, powered by AI and quantum mechanics in which China is outstripping all, shows that nations that ignore aspects of technological advancement will be left behind. History is taking a new turn.
India and China lost out during the 18th century and later. The Industrial revolution was the heart of British progress that enabled it to colonize these countries. A disunited and complacent India, with its reputation as a mine of gold and silver, high GDP and national wealth, and trade surplus with others, for so many centuries, was easily colonized by, among others, the superior technology of the British in weapons and marine defence, enabling them to impoverish India. The Indian regional kings busy fighting amongst themselves ignored what was happening in the world, making the country a battleground of struggle for supremacy between the British, the French, the Dutch and the Portuguese during the early 18th century before the British established themselves firmly.
India cannot afford to make the same mistakes again. Our complacency has always cost us. But even now, despite our progress in space and military technology, we are the world’s biggest importer of such technology. Recent comments by India’s Army Chief brought home this point when he emphasized that India needs to develop its capacities in AI and big data, spend more on new technology for defence and start looking at self-reliance – we import nearly 60% of our defence equipment and even our satellite-based surveillance capabilities are incomplete (Analytics India 2019).
Last year’s global rankings in which India was listed as third in the world in terms of possessing ‘AI skills’ is well, but not enough (Livemint 2018). ‘AI skills’ pertain mainly to service sectors of the economy, like healthcare, education, finance, information technology and others, where employees develop their own AI ‘skills’. While it shows that Indians have the potential to make breakthroughs, this has little to do with India developing its own technology and manufacturing in AI. India continues to import and rely on the West.
Successive government promises of accelerating manufacturing of such technology in India have not been fulfilled satisfactorily so far, while the selfishness, greed and narrow interests characterizing the politics of pettiness in a democracy continue to hold us hostage. The insatiable Indian consumer is an object of competition between American and Chinese technological corporates like Amazon, Walmart, Alibaba etc., with Indian equivalent of such companies rarely in sight.
If by chance, a company like Reliance manages to make some progress in securing indigenous defence contracts, the politics of greed within politicians and media do not let such corporates live. Like France, we are hobbled by our obsession with illusions of democracy and freedom. Even as we battle to secure our own freedom, we are content to let the country live as a bonded hostage to our petty interests.
What we ought to realize is that AI is here to stay and that the next step of national competition will be in this field of technology. While the dangerous consequences of AI represent the vital reaping of what humans have sown by ascribing an absolute reality to Science and its material inventions, one can neither shun Science nor adopt the utilitarian and power-driven attitude regarding its absoluteness that is pervasive today. Even China has not been able to balance this out, though its nationalism-driven technological progress has certainly insulated it, to some extent, from the commercial greed that is eating away at the Western civilization.
However, above nationalism also is the spiritual reconciliation between Science and human progress. The age of AI represents a stage in scientific advancement which is a precursor to a society whose inventions are rapidly going out of its own control. It is not just the issue of human slavery to material comforts guaranteed through scientific progress. Rather, it is a much more dangerous stage where we are in the danger of losing our own selves in pure material Science, giving it a vital monstrous form that supersedes basic human faith and workings of our consciousness and assumes a reality which we already seem helpless to control or reverse and too dependent to even think about doing so. Unless the dangerous form being assumed by Science is matched up by a complete transformation in our own consciousness and an abandonment of utilitarian greed of our systems, we are already standing at the brink of destruction.
As Sri Aurobindo has written, “At present mankind is undergoing an evolutionary crisis in which is concealed a choice of its destiny; for a stage has been reached in which human mind has achieved in certain directions an enormous development while in others it stands arrested and bewildered and can no longer find its way. A structure of the external life has been raised up by man’s ever-active mind and life-will, a structure of an unmanageable hugeness and complexity, for the service of his mental, vital, physical claims and urges, a complex political, social, administrative, economic, cultural machinery, an organized collective means for his intellectual, sensational, aesthetic and material satisfaction. Man has created a system of civilization which has become too big for his limited mental capacity and understanding and his still more limited spiritual and moral capacity to utilize and manage, a too dangerous servant of his blundering ego and its appetites.” (Sri Aurobindo 1944).
So far no nation has been able to grasp this dangerous turn we are taking. Even China with its spirit of nationalism and goodwill falls short. As do other nationalist and cultured Asian countries like Korea and Japan. For, to understand the limits of Science, to know where it exhausts itself and, most importantly, to know that the Divinity within man is eternal and cannot be subjugated to any scientific machinery, is a spiritual secret that no other country grasps. India alone has the means to realize this. Spiritual realization is a living reality here despite all the ills ailing our hobbled system and this reality has saved us throughout history and enabled us to always emerge and progress endlessly. The progress is often slow and ridden with frustrations, but our ancient civilization has never been worn out like the turn the West is taking.
The expansive spirit of India is able to embrace within itself whatever it has to take from the world, without friction. India has not been the birthplace of too many modern inventions and has rarely figured in the cut-throat competition of today. But, historically, despite five centuries of Muslim rule and two centuries of British rule, the foundations of our culture are intact and stronger than ever. India doesn’t need to colonize materially, but its spiritual colonization and influence has been extremely powerful throughout the ages. And that is why India is not at odds with, or threatened by the extreme international competition over technologies that is characterizing international relations of present. India’s extremely wide, expansive spirit and living of the Infinite as the basis of our culture, will rarely put it at odds with anything though temporary shocks have been there always.
But the shackles of present forms of modern Parliamentary politics, the selfishness characterizing our national thinking and disregard for nationalism has not enabled us to take a lead and actively take charge of the new changes. Sanatana Dharma and the spiritual foundations of our culture have been the source of our survival, saving grace and continuous replenishment. But for India to lead the world, minimalism, complacency and taking itself for granted will not be enough. For such utilitarian selfishness to co-exist with the greatness of our culture is unacceptable. The deplorable nature of our politics and social and national divisions are hindrances that need to be thrown away, as is our active regard for false secular constructions imposed by alien cultures, otherwise we will always remain a nation that survives by its spiritual faith but whose material life is deplorably selfish and without any regard for national spirit. It’s high time that the spirit of mere survival and the habit of not thinking is done away with.
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