Category Archives: Government
Was the meeting of UN’s Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems cancelled to delay action affecting UK and US investment?
“Autonomous weapons select and engage targets without human intervention. They might include, for example, armed quadcopters that can search for and eliminate people meeting certain pre-defined criteria, but do not include cruise missiles or remotely piloted drones for which humans make all targeting decisions. Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems is—practically if not legally—feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.”
Today (Aug. 21), Quartz reports that in a second open letter a group of specialists from 26 nations, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman, as well as other leaders in robotics and artificial-intelligence companies, called for the United Nations to ban the development and use of autonomous weapons.
In recent years Musk has repeatedly warned against the dangers of AI, donating millions to fund research that ensures artificial intelligence will be used for good, not evil. He joined other tech luminaries in establishing OpenAI, a nonprofit with the same goal in mind and part of his donation went to create the Future of Life Institute.
“As companies building the technologies in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics that may be repurposed to develop autonomous weapons, we feel especially responsible in raising this alarm. We warmly welcome the decision of the UN’s Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) to establish a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems. Many of our researchers and engineers are eager to offer technical advice to your deliberations . . .
“Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”
The first meeting for the UN’s recently established Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems is now planned for November. It was to be held today, but was cancelled, the letter notes, “due to a small number of states failing to pay their financial contributions to the UN.”
Critics have argued for years that UN action on autonomous weapons is taking too long.
The UK and the US have increased investment on robotic and autonomous systems by committing to a joint programme (announced by UK Defence Minister Philip Dunne and US Under Secretary of Defense Frank Kendall, right).
Observers say the UK and US are seeking to protect their heavy investment in these technologies – some directly harmful and others servicing military operations – by ‘watering down’ an agreement so that it only includes emerging technology, meaning that any weapons put into practice while discussions continue are beyond the reach of a ban.
To avoid escalation, frontline troops in the area do not generally carry weapons
In June a column of Chinese troops accompanied construction vehicles and road-building equipment moving south into what Bhutan considers its territory. Bhutan requested assistance from Delhi.
The Chinese and Indian troops reportedly clashed by ritualised “jostling” captured on Indian TV: bumping chests, without punching or kicking, in order to force the other side backwards.
Yesterday, the FT highlighted another strategy as Chinese troops hold a banner reading ‘You’ve crossed the border, please go back’ in Ladakh, India
The Press Trust of India, India’s national news agency, reported that troops on both sides suffered minor injuries in a scuffle on the banks of Pangong Lake, on India’s Independence Day holiday.
It began when Chinese troops twice attempted to enter territory claimed by India. The news agency said that Indian border police formed a chain to block Chinese troops, who responded by throwing stones. Indian forces responded in kind, and the melee lasted about half an hour before both sides pulled back, the agency said.
An Indian foreign ministry spokesman said: “As there is no commonly delineated boundary on the line of actual control, such a situation arises from time to time, and these are dealt with at the local level”.
Paul Simons adds to many ‘wakeup calls’ – writing about high temperatures, drought and wildfires.
May and June were also phenomenally hot across Portugal, Italy, the Balkans, Greece and Turkey.
Heat and drought have helped to fuel wildfires in Spain and Italy, and wildfires near the seaside resort of Calampiso in Sicily forced the evacuation by boat of about 700 tourists on Wednesday night. In Greece the heatwave led the culture ministry to close archaeological sites around the country, including the Acropolis in Athens.
Together with a long-running drought, the heat has ravaged much of southern Spain, leading to a devastated wheat and barley harvest. If the arid conditions continue, there are also fears for the olive, walnut, almond and grape harvests and the wellbeing of livestock. Rainfall has been desperately low this year, but the country has been suffering from a lack of rain for five years.
Drought threatens to reduce cereal production in Italy and parts of Spain to its lowest level in at least 20 years, and hit other regional crops. Castile and Leon, the largest cereal growing region in Spain, has been particularly badly affected, with crop losses estimated at around 60 to 70%. While the EU is collectively a major wheat exporter, Spain and Italy both rely on imports from countries including France, Britain and Ukraine.
Deadly heatwaves for much of South Asia – yet many of those living there will have contributed little to climate change
The Guardian adds to the news from Europe: India recorded its hottest ever day in 2016 when the temperature in the city of Phalodi, Rajasthan, hit 51C. Another study led by Prof Elfatih Eltahir, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, linked the impact of climate change to the suicides of nearly 60,000 Indian farmers.
The analysis, published in the journal PNAS, assesses the impact of climate change on the deadly combination of heat and humidity, measured as the “wet bulb temperature” (WBT). Once this reaches 35C, the human body cannot cool itself by sweating and even fit people sitting in the shade will die within six hours.
Prof Chris Huntingford, at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said: “If given just one word to describe climate change, then ‘unfairness’ would be a good candidate. Raised levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are expected to cause deadly heatwaves for much of South Asia. Yet many of those living there will have contributed little to climate change.”
Guardian journalists comment sarcastically, “But fear not: by 2040, no new diesel or petrol vehicles will be sold in the UK
This, apparently, is the appropriate timetable for responding to what a parliamentary committee calls a “public health emergency”. A child born today will be 23 by the time this policy matures – by then the damage to the development of her lungs and brain will have been done”.
According to Professor Eltahir’s study, if emissions are reduced roughly in line with the global Paris climate change agreement there would be no 35C WBT heatwaves and the population affected by the 31C WBT events would fall from 75% to 55%. About 15% are exposed today.
A National Geographic article says most people agree that to curb global warming a variety of measures need to be taken. On a personal level, driving and flying less, recycling, and conservation reduces a person’s “carbon footprint”—the amount of carbon dioxide a person is responsible for putting into the atmosphere.
At present, lorries shifting identical goods in opposite directions pass each other on 2,000-mile journeys. Competing parcel companies ply the same routes, in largely empty vans – a theme explored by MP Caroline Lucas and Colin Hines in 2003 – the Great Trade Swap.
It describes airports as deadly too – yet government and opposition alike are ‘apparently hell-bent’ on expanding Heathrow, exploring airport expansion projects elsewhere and seeking post-Brexit trade deals with distant countries.
To reduce the risk of ever more extreme weather, we must reduce the amount of fossil fuel we are burning – and the measures taken will have other desirable consequences as the following cartoon shows:
Parliament must listen to its Committee on Climate Change – chairman John Gummer. As the East Anglian Times reported in June, its annual progress report calls for “urgent” plans to meet legal targets for carbon cuts by 2032 as greenhouse gases from transport and buildings continue to rise.
The committee advocates action to bridge the gap between existing policies and what is needed to achieve required emissions reductions by the mid-2020s – boosting electric vehicles and cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the heating of homes to help to meet UK climate targets.
As Boris Johnson rattles his sabre and peddles unsettling fantasies, a Chinese minister refers to Britain’s track record: bringing chaos and humanitarian disaster
On Thursday there was a joint meeting between British and Australian foreign and defence ministers, who discussed closer defence and trade co-operation as the UK prepares to leave the EU.
Boris Johnson, Britain’s foreign secretary, said that Britain was stepping up its commitment to the Asia-Pacific region following its dispatch of Typhoon aircraft to Japan and South Korea last year and plans to sail two new ‘vast, colossal’ aircraft carriers through contested Asian waters at a time of rising tensions between China and the US.
Jamie Smyth in Melbourne (FT) reports that Mr Johnson repeated this claim later in Sydney: “One of the first things we will do with the two new colossal aircraft carriers that we have just built is send them on a freedom of navigation operation to this area,”
HMS Queen Elizabeth is due to come into service in 2020 but HMS Prince of Wales is not due until 2023. They are designed to support F-35 fighter jets, which the UK will not have until 2020, according to the National Audit Office.
Belief in selected tenets of the rules-based international system
Mr Johnson said the aim was to vindicate our belief in the rules-based international system – freely ignored by UK<USA and allies when bombing civilians in several regions – and the freedom of navigation through those waterways which are absolutely vital to world trade.
Will Boris be foreign secretary long enough to implement this – or will he be long gone?
Euan Graham, an analyst at the Lowy Institute think-tank, said Mr Johnson’s commitment to Asian waters was unlikely to take effect until the early 2020s when the carriers would be ready to sail to the region.
The (‘blond British wombat’) foreign secretary told The Australian newspaper that legal certainty in the South China Sea was important and that Britain had a role to play in the region that would be welcomed by many: “People want the involvement of a country that sticks up for the rules-based international system, that is prepared to deploy its military in the area”.
On Friday CNN reports that Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang said “certain outside countries are determined to stir up trouble” in the region. Whatever banners these countries or officials claim to uphold, and whatever excuses they claim to have, their track record of bringing chaos and humanitarian disasters through their so-called moral interventions in other parts of the world is enough to make nations and peoples in the region maintain high vigilance.”
Broken Britain 7: prolonged, tragic sagas: infected blood transfusions, OP poisoning and Gulf War Syndrome, denial and delay, pending death
The Haemophilia Society has blown the whistle and called for an enquiry into its own failure and that of government, pharma and clinicians. More here.
Medics and politicians knew by the mid-1970s that commercially manufactured blood products from the USA were suspect. By the mid-1980s there were warnings of a similar situation in respect of HIV. Nevertheless these products continued to be imported and used – just as OP sheep dips were.
British haemophiliacs and other victims’ lives were blighted in the 1970s and 1980s by these cheap imported US blood products, harvested from inmates and drug addicts. More than 7,000 were infected and went on unknowingly to infect family and friends. Read more in The Journal.
Last week in The Times, Margarette Driscoll recalls that in 2015, following the Penrose report into contaminated blood products in Scotland (which many victims denounced as a whitewash), David Cameron apologised to those who were infected by HIV and hepatitis C.
References to “compensation” have been changed to “payments” – to avoid admitting the liability which is already common knowledge? The sums received by victims of the contaminated blood scandal are known as ex gratia payments.
In April, as he left the Commons, the former health secretary Andy Burnham declared there had been a “criminal cover-up on an industrial scale in the NHS” over contaminated blood and called for a Hillsborough-style inquiry.
Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North, has been campaigning on the issue since she met one of her constituents, a mild haemophiliac who was given factor VIII in 1983 to prevent excessive bleeding when he had a tooth removed in hospital. He discovered he was infected with hepatitis C in 1995, when it showed up on blood tests for an unrelated illness.
As Theresa May had set up the Hillsborough inquiry when she was home secretary, Johnson was hopeful she would do the same for contaminated blood.
May refused. Johnson requested an urgent Commons debate, which was due to be held on Tuesday. She then got the six leaders of the opposition parties — including the DUP — to sign a letter to Ms May asking for an inquiry, and this is to be set up.
Adding insult to injury? Payment to many victims of NHS blood contamination is to be cut
In March this year a scheme to pay the victims of NHS blood contamination is to be scaled back under government plans announced on Monday. Ministers believe the reforms are necessary because more people are now considered likely to develop serious health issues – and be entitled to higher payouts – pushing the programme as much as £123m over budget.
The government has proposed measures that would cut predicted costs, including limiting the availability of the higher level of financial support under the scheme
Will an enquiry compensate the victims of this NHS for the cuts?