As an author and freelance editor, I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with a lot of writers, and I’ve discovered most have one at least one thing in common: a sense of urgency to publish.
Since the majority of my writer friends are Christians, I’m not sure if the rush is unique to Christian authors or universal among all, but I do suspect that believers may feel a bit more hurried, what with the need to get the message out there and share the truth with the world.
Would that we were all so eager to witness to our neighbors, but I digress.
Whether you’re published or not, you may feel a sense of urgency about your writing projects. Maybe you worry that somebody else will come along with the same idea and beat you to it. Maybe you worry that by the time your book reaches your audience, the perfect opportunity for your message will have passed. Or maybe the worry is more personal than that. After all, none of us is getting any younger.
With the explosion of indie publishing, impatient writers don’t have to wait any longer. All it takes is a few clicks of the mouse, and you can load that book on retail sites, making it available to your adoring public.
You can indie publish, but should you?
I’m not knocking the process. I’m indie published myself, so I consider this a valid option. The question I want to tackle isn’t whether or not you should take this route. The question is when. Even if the Lord handed you the story, the image for the book cover, and the title, that’s not proof He wants you to rush out and throw it on Amazon. Not sure I’m right? There’s plenty of biblical justification for waiting:
Abraham was told he’d have a son and then waited 19 years before little Isaac was born.
Biblical scholars estimate David waited 10-15 years after he was anointed king before he finally ascended to the throne.
The apostle Paul didn’t begin preaching until more than a decade after his conversion.
I’m sure there were times when Abraham, David, and Paul felt the waiting was unnecessary and wished God would hurry it along. Abraham and Sarah did hurry their promise along. We know how that turned out. David not only waited but, for much of that interim, had to battle just to stay alive. The time wasn’t wasted, though. Lessons are learned in the waiting. Patience, perseverance, and faith, of course. But I suspect some of those lessons were more basic than that. For instance, David learned how to be a leader others were willing to die for. If he’d been crowned sooner, he may not have become the greatest earthly king in Israel’s history. After all, he began as a shepherd, lowly and obscure.
Maybe you have a book you believe needs to be published. Maybe it’s a book you think the Lord gave you, and maybe it even came with a promise. If so, be patient. The anxiety fluttering in your stomach when you think about this project—that isn’t from God. When you pray and trust, you’ll be filled with peace, not worry. But if you force your way through doors He hasn’t opened, the anxiety will likely grow. And the book will not have the impact it could have if you’d remained in His will.
I’ve seen too many books brought to the light through indie publishing that weren’t mature enough, weren’t seasoned enough, weren’t ready to be there. Instead of jumping ahead, trust that when God wants you to publish your words, He’ll make it clear. He’ll open the right doors and lead you to exactly the right the people who can help make it happen.
In the meantime, move on to other projects. Build your newsletter list, learn new marketing strategies, make connections with other authors. Mostly, keep learning, keep growing, and keep improving your craft. It may be that if you come back to that project in a year or two, you’ll realize you can make it shine.
I speak from experience. The Lord gave me a book almost four years ago. It’s the only time I’ve ever felt one of my stories came from God, and, still, it was the hardest book I ever wrote. I believe that with the help of a great editor, it can be my best book. But that story has been pitched and pitched, and nobody’s interested. I write and publish other books and help other authors do the same while that book languishes silently on my laptop. When I pray about it, I don’t have a clear direction. I don’t feel free to indie publish it, and no acquisitions editor has shown any interest. So I wait. The last thing I want to do is treat His gift with haste and carelessness. I trust that God has a purpose in the waiting and a plan for the story He gave me.
The Lord may make you a promise, give you a vision, or impart to you a message, and then ask you to wait. He’s been doing it for thousands of years, and He’ll keep doing it today. You could choose to be like Abraham and Sarah and rush ahead, or you could trust God’s timing, which is always perfect.
Today, Americans, do your civic and public duty to Vote.
But far more importantly conduct yourself as an honorable and upright Free Man or Free Woman who needs no president, no congress, and no court upon your own best natures
For the Good and Free Man needs no real government to govern and tax him, no master to enslave and rule him, and certainly never a single corrupt criminal to deceive, domineer (domina), manipulate, and debase him.
Vote to be Free of All That, but no matter what happens make sure you become once again free of all that – even if that means you must Overthrow all of that.
Be not a coward, but a Free Man!Be an Actual American…
Last night my wife, youngest daughter and I went by my parent’s house. My old man wasn’t there as he was at his Masonic lodge meeting but my mother had recently had my parent’s genetic ancestry typed (both my father and my mother’s genetic backgrounds) and wanted to tell me and my daughter what our ancestral backgrounds were.
(I had been thinking of doing the same for me and my wife but with all of the other work I’ve had to do recently have not yet proceeded on the project.)
Anyway the results of my parent’s typing were quite fascinating to me.
If Jung’s basic postulate that people “inherit” ancestral, ethnic, or racial memories (though the last two ideas are really somewhat a stretch of his theory) is true then my ancestral background certainly seems to have had some interesting and even dramatic effects upon the manner in which my life had developed thus far.
Now to be honest I am not at all sure of the idea of “ancestral memory” as Jung conjectured, it seems far more likely to me that ancestral effects would have been carried through to descendants via epigenetic and genetic mechanisms, rather than as actual inherited “memories” (though lacking genetic and epigenetic information current to our time he might have meant basically the same thing just lacked a mechanism for describing the likely cause). I am not wholly discounting more mystical effects and affects via “inherited memory” upon a person through their ancestral background; indeed I have a few somewhat metaphysical formulations and speculations of my own when it comes to genetics. I am however not really a big believer in what might be more commonly and popularly termed “Fate” and more a proponent of Wyrd. That is to say I think Wyrd more in line (as a working and workable metaphysical formulation) corresponding to epigenetics as a viable and valid mechanism for the future influence of genetic changes upon a descendant population than I am comfortable with the idea of some type of mystical and unavoidable fate as a metaphysical conception of ancestral influences or “memories.” Though I do not wholly discount the possibility of some type of ancestral “memory” being written into a person’s genetic code either through recombinant experiences or through epigenetic influences. It’s just that the scientist in me thinks there is a far better method implied in epigenetic processes and that rather than memories being passed along from our ancestors that instead both weak (recessive and passive) and even strong (pronounced and active) tendencies and traits may be written into future genetic expressions via genetic recombination or through epigenetic processes. Or through the actions of both.
That all being said, however, and with that viewpoint in mind, I found the following typing results to be of especial interest to me.
I knew I had a great deal of Anglo-Saxon and British (Celtic) ancestry through my father’s side of the family. That proved out true and I’ve often wondered if that is why I learned Old English (Anglo-Saxon) and for my long standing (since I was a young boy) interest in all things Anglo-Saxon and Celtic. Including the language, the myths, the lifestyle, the history, warfare practices, and the conditions of that period of history.
I also have a great deal of Irish in my background (which I’ll return to later) and Western European in my blood, probably Germanic and Bohemian. I was also aware of Eastern European lineage, though that turned out to be much less than I had anticipated with one exception which rather fascinated me. That being Northern Russian and Finnish.
Now, much like Tolkien, I have had a near lifelong interest in three things from that area of the world and that basic timeframe/era of history: the stories involving Baba Yaga, the Eastern Vikings (the Rus, and their river explorations of Russia and Eastern Europe), and the Kalavala (I first read the Kalavala as a kid). But it never occurred to me that I would have either Russian or (especially not) Finnish ancestry. As a matter of fact despite my interest in all of these things I would have bet before these results that I had no Russian or Finnish ancestors at all. But I do.
I also knew that I had Greek ancestors and again I have had a lifelong interest in Greek and Latin (Greek being the first foreign language I ever studied in college, because of my pursuit at that time of the priesthood, and German being the second), and that proved out true as well. I do have Greek ancestors. But to my amazement and shock I also discovered I have Italian ancestors. Which again, I’ll return to in a moment. Which could account for my long time interest in Roman military matters and Latin. (Both Latin and Greek seem “familiar and comfortable languages” to me. Natural to me. The ideas and terms used in both languages seem so natural and familiar that when reading them it often seems to me more like a process of “rediscovery” than the study of foreign concepts or terminologies.)
Finally, and to my greatest shock and surprise my Scandinavian ancestry is quite high. Somewhere between 15 and 21%. Again, as with the Russian and Finnish, which is a much lower percentage, I would have never guessed I had any Scandinavian heritage or ancestors at all. (Though, logically, this only makes real sense, since anyone with high concentrations of British and English ancestors is bound to have at least some Scandinavian ancestors due to the invasions of England by the Vikings.) But again, it was unexpected to me and I was particularly shocked by the high concentrations of Scandinavian heritage in my blood. But again that might go a very long way to explaining my interest in the Vikings and my intense lifelong interest in Vadding and exploration and my keen concern with the Navy, sailing, and in nautical matters in general. But now that I know both about the Scandinavian ancestry and the Russian and Finnish links it is entirely possible that I had both Western and Eastern Vikings in my ancestral background.
All of these things were entirely fascinating to me, to say the least, but now we enter fields of an almost bizarre and uncanny nature, some of which I had previously suspected, some which were entirely new to me, and some of which might prove that Jung was even right in his assumptions and theories, at least to some degree.
For I also discovered three very odd facts regarding my ancestors. For of all that at least some of my Irish ancestors were Black Irish (as I had long suspected from my family’s jet back hair and dark eyes) though I had assumed that was possibly Spanish Black Irish. That may or may not be true but through my mother’s side of the family, at least, it appears that they were Italian Black Irish. Through family and genealogical research it was discovered that the Irish family name was actually a modified Italian place name. It turns out that a distant Italian ancestor once fought a duel and killed a man. Fearing being hunted down and killed as a result he fled Italy and eventually made his way (perhaps through Iberia – more on that momentarily) to Ireland where he dropped the Da (denoting place) and modified his (last name or place name apparently) to adopt the eventual Irish family name of Adair. (Originally his last name was probably Da Dare.) Black Irish, no doubt but from a totally unexpected source to me, from Italy. Though I have no idea as to the particulars of the duel, what it involved, or whom, it occurs to me now that this might be at least one source for my hot (and at times in my life violent) temper that I have had to work so long to master. For again, though I know not the details I can become almost instantly furious and even dangerously angry when I see injustice and evil perpetrate upon another. So although I do not know the details of this duel, or if my ancestor was in the right or in the wrong, I do now know I apparently have at least one hot-blooded, violent ancestor who was willing to kill a man in a one on one stand up man-fight. On my mother’s side of the family. As for how many of my ancestors also killed men on my father’s side of the family given their likely martial and military history, well, I imagine it was certainly enough.
Which brings me to the second ancestral odd point (from my point of view and given the course of my own life) of correlation. The Iberian Peninsula. My father’s side of the family has ancestors from Iberia but so did my mother, possibly from the Italian fleeing the duel. I have often suspected, with no real evidence at all, that at least one of my ancestors was a Sephardic Jew. Due to my intense interest in Judaism and the Kabbalah and the Sephardim in particular. Going back to when I was a teenager and later in college when I read all of the Sephardic literature and works (such as the writings of Moses ben Maimon – Maimonides) that I could lay my hands on. Which eventually became quite a lot. Now that I know that both sides of my family had ancestors from the Iberian Peninsula, and that the percentages are rather high relatively speaking – from 5 to 7% – it seems indeed logical that I might very well have at least one Sephardic Jew in my ancestry. If not more. This has been, at least, a long and very strong suspicion of mine, and indeed I have often wondered if it were not at least one genesis point for my investigative and research and scientific prowess.
And this brings me to the last truly curious and peculiar possible connection between my ancestors and myself. My father has North African ancestors. At about the same level (percentage wise) as my Russian and Finnish ancestors.
Now anyone of my family or friends who knows me well knows that going back to my early childhood (and this became prominent in my teenage years) I used to have recurring dreams about being a priest somewhere in North Africa (perhaps a Coptic priest, perhaps Byzantine, likely in the vicinity of Egypt but maybe also in Libya) in ancient times (late antiquity or early Medieval ages) and that in these recurring dreams I was almost always abandoning a young women with whom I was involved. Dark skinned, dark eyes, long hair, possibly Egyptian. I was almost always riding away on a horse because I was either already a priest and felt our involvement somehow interfered with my duties to God, or because I felt that my obligations to God and to her would somehow interfere with each other. Indeed I would often recount and talk about these dreams to various friends of mine. Sometimes also to my mother.
When in college the first time I was indeed once again contemplating being a priest and again I wrestled in my own mind and soul long and hard could I be a priest and serve God and God alone, or would I be a priest who could also be married, or would I seek only marriage and not the priesthood? It was a personal struggle of priorities for about ten years for me. Eventually I abandoned my studies for the priesthood but have maintained lifelong friendships with priests and nuns and monks and I still intend to become a Greek Orthodox priest late in life, before I die. If my wife pre-deceases me, and I actually hope and sometimes pray I die before her, I will retire to a monastery or possibly a hermitage.
Now I have long suspected that I had North African heritage and at least one ancestor who was a priest but I could not account for this suspicion nor could I find prove of it in my family history or genealogy. And I would have never suspected that if indeed I had North African ancestors it would be on my father’s side of the family. Rather I suspected if any such ancestor existed it would have been on my mother’s side of the family. But there it was, North African heritage and from my father’s side of the family.
Coincidentally, if you believe in that kind of thing, I have always preferred dark skinned women with long dark hair and dark to black eyes. Spanish, Egyptian, Italian, Greek, Indian (India Indian) – those types of females. As far as physical appearance goes. And I dated Greek and Italian and Spanish and Egyptian women when younger. Eventually though I married an American black woman. And I am happily married.
However, and perhaps due to these experiences and impressions I even named my daughters after famous Italian and Greek women.
But I have often wondered if these dreams I had so often as a kid and if my preferences for a certain type of physical appearance might have not have indeed stemmed from some ancestral experience that became deeply lodged in my genetic code through some epigenetic event that was profound to my ancestor. (After one such dream as a teenager I wrote a thirty page long poem about the dream and everything I could recall connected with it. I still have that poem.) This idea seems likely to me because even though I have much higher percentages of Scandinavian lineage in my background yet I have only very rarely ever been attracted to fair haired or blue eyed women. Though I do find such women physically attractive on occasion, I am more instinctively drawn to darker women, and prefer them.
So, given the genetic percentages in my background it seems very likely to me that if my ancestors did influence my choices in women and their physical appearance then it must have been due to the intensity or profundity of the experience rather than to the percentages of the women available. Something about the interplay between the Priesthood and the “Dark Woman.”
Oddly enough, or perhaps not, these dreams completely ceased after I got married, and have thereafter never recurred. Not that I could ever recall anyhow.
In any event, having gathered this information from my parents regarding their background, and my own, certain things about my life now seem to make much more sense to me and many things I have often suspected now seem likely confirmed.
I have often had two separate natures. One very active in the world, physical, sensual, outgoing, entrepreneurial, logical, concrete, scientific, militaristic, risk-oriented, and even violent in nature (which I call the Detective and the Scientist and the Adventurer side of me), and the other part of me which is very much mystical and metaphysical and philosophical and peace-loving, withdraw from the world, otherworldly, Godly, and of an introverted nature (which I call the Priestly or Monkish side of me). And in truth I’m about 50% introvert and 50% extrovert. So often these two very different natures have sort of waged war against each other in my inner soul or inner man. I’m not gonna say for dominance, for that would be untrue and an exaggeration, more like for accommodation and peace with each other.
But now that I know more of my genealogy and more of my ancestral genetic background many of my lifelong interests and quests – my desires to explore and to Vad, my detective and investigative occupations, my inventive concerns, my historical pursuits, my artistic inclinations, the subject matters upon which I write, my poetic and songwriting abilities and capabilities, my linguistic fascinations, my scientific experimentation, my entrepreneurial occupations, my metaphysical, religious, and spiritual curiosities and pursuits, even such things as my avocational and personal interests and habits – all of these things now seem more and more logical to me in nature and scope. And many of my prior suspicions about myself and my ancestral background seem either confirmed or likely confirmed, though I am the first to admit in an often unanticipated and unlikely manner.
If, as is often said, “the child is the father of the man” then it is equally true that, “carpent tua poma nepotes.”
Now I need to have my wife and children so tested and typed to see what can be learned of them and for their future benefit.
These are things that I either like or love to do. I try to do many if not most of these things for at least a few minutes every week, depending upon my Work Schedule and other matters. Some I can only get around to about once a month or so. I like or love all of these things, some more than others, but I do not consider any of them contradictory to my Nature or Personality or in any way contradictory to each other. This is me as I am and in a nutshell:
Analyze and study Criminal cases and Terrorism (though I much prefer to prevent and thwart either if possible)
Attend and listen to a lecture
Clear and tend my land
Cruise the internet – see what I can find
Design and build things
Do something athletic (hit baseball, play ball, run, swim, etc.)
Do something for someone else – assistance, charity, etc.
Draw or sketch or map
Engage in science (study, conduct experiment, develop theorem, make observations, write papers)
Explore and if possible Vad, sneak around places
Geochache (though I don’t use GPS)
Get together/hang out with friends, drink ale, talk
Go see a movie (about once a month)
Have sex with my wife
Hike in the woods
If possible destroy or at least hamper or cripple evil
Invent and/or Innovate
Listen to a radio play (especially old ones)
Listen to music
Listen to my scanner or CB or HAM radio
Play and design games (board, chess, D&D, RPGs, etc.)
Play the piano or my harmonica
Play video games (although I only do this about once every three or four months)
Play with my dog Sam and my cats and explore with them
Play with my kids
Pray, meditate, etc.
Promote Right and Truth and the Good
Read a graphic novel
Read and Study the Bible (especially in Hebrew and Greek)
Read for pleasure (genre works and fiction)
Revolt against wrong and injustice
Shoot (my guns)
Sit naked under the stars (if not too hot or cold)
Star and moon watch with my telescope
Study a different/foreign language
Study and do research (on all kinds of things)
Sword and knife fight
Talk to God
Track and study animals
Visit an old church, historical building, site, monument
Visit a museum, see a play
Watch TV (though only on the weekends)
Write a book
Write a novel
Write a poem
Write a song
Write a story
Steven Pressfield is giving away a free download of his new book, Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit.
You should download a copy before the free offer expires. I really like and admire Pressfield’s work, both his historical fiction and his non-fiction.
The War of Art was superb. I added it to my personal library. Everyone should read it.
This will likely be another excellent tool for writers.
I can’t wait to read my download of this new book. I’ll start it this weekend. Afterwards I anticipate that I’ll add it to my personal library as well.
A lot of my buddies have military and law enforcement backgrounds.
Because of that one of my friends brought this article to my attention and a few of us discussed it since it is of more than passing interest to many of us.
It gave me an idea for a new science fiction short story about the same subject matter which I’m going to call Jihadology. (For the Jihad of Technology.)
I going to completely avoid the whole Terminator and tech gone rogue approach though of modern sci-fi and rather take a particular variation on the Keith Laumer BOLO theme, though there will be nothing about BOLOs or other such machines in the story. Those stories though were as under-rated and prophetic as was Laumer himself.
Anyway I want to avoid the whole world ending, unrealistic bullcrap kind of story (both from the scientific and military standpoints) and focus more on a very tight interpretation of what might actually happen if technologies such as those listed or projected in the article below were employed against an alien species in the future.
What would be both the operational and eventual ramifications, good and bad, of such technologies,and how could such technologies get out of hand or evolve beyond specified tasks and design parameters to become something completely new in function and focus?
I’ve already got the first few paragraphs to a page written which is based loosely upon this observation I made about what the article implied:
“I’m not saying there are any easy answers, there aren’t when it comes to technology, but technology can at least potentially do two related and diametrically opposed things at once: make a task so easy and efficient and risk-free for the operator that he is never truly in danger for himself, and secondly make a task so easy and efficient and risk-free for the operator that he is never truly in danger of understanding the danger others are in.
And if you can just remove the operator altogether, and just set the tech free to do as it is programmed, well then, there ya go…”
If the stories work well then I’ll add them to my overall science fiction universe of The Curae and The Frontiersmen.
By the way, as a sort of pop-culture primer on the very early stages of these developments (though they are at least a decade old now as far as wide-scale operations go) I recommend the film, Good Kill.
Anyway here is the very interesting and good article that spurred all of this. Any ideas of your own about these subjects? Feel free to comment. If your ideas and observations are good and interesting I might even adapt them in some way and incorporate them into the short story series.
Czech writer Karel Čapek’s1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), which famously introduced the word robot to the world, begins with synthetic humans—the robots from the title—toiling in factories to produce low-cost goods. It ends with those same robots killing off the human race. Thus was born an enduring plot line in science fiction: robots spiraling out of control and turning into unstoppable killing machines. Twentieth-century literature and film would go on to bring us many more examples of robots wreaking havoc on the world, with Hollywood notably turning the theme into blockbuster franchises like The Matrix, Transformers, and The Terminator.
Lately, fears of fiction turning to fact have been stoked by a confluence of developments, including important advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, along with the widespread use of combat drones and ground robotsin Iraq and Afghanistan. The world’s most powerful militaries are now developing ever more intelligent weapons, with varying degrees of autonomy and lethality. The vast majority will, in the near term, be remotely controlled by human operators, who will be “in the loop” to pull the trigger. But it’s likely, and some say inevitable, that future AI-powered weapons will eventually be able to operate with complete autonomy, leading to a watershed moment in the history of warfare: For the first time, a collection of microchips and software will decide whether a human being lives or dies.
Not surprisingly, the threat of “killer robots,” as they’ve been dubbed, has triggered an impassioned debate. The poles of the debate are represented by those who fear that robotic weapons could start a world war and destroy civilization and others who argue that these weapons are essentially a new class of precision-guided munitions that will reduce, not increase, casualties. In December, more than a hundred countries are expected to discuss the issue as part of a United Nations disarmament meeting in Geneva.
Last year, the debate made news after a group of leading researchers in artificial intelligence called for a ban on “offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.” In an open letter presented at a major AI conference, the group argued that these weapons would lead to a “global AI arms race” and be used for “assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group.”
The three added that “autonomous weapons are potentially weapons of mass destruction. While some nations might not choose to use them for such purposes, other nations and certainly terrorists might find them irresistible.”
It’s hard to argue that a new arms race culminating in the creation of intelligent, autonomous, and highly mobile killing machines would well serve humanity’s best interests. And yet, regardless of the argument, the AI arms race is already under way.
Autonomous weapons have existed for decades, though the relatively few that are out there have been used almost exclusively for defensive purposes. One example is the Phalanx, a computer-controlled, radar-guided gun system installed on many U.S. Navy ships that can automatically detect, track, evaluate, and fire at incoming missiles and aircraft that it judges to be a threat. When it’s in fully autonomous mode, no human intervention is necessary.
More recently, military suppliers have developed what may be considered the first offensive autonomous weapons.Israel Aerospace Industries’ Harpy andHarop drones are designed to home in on the radio emissions of enemy air-defense systems and destroy them by crashing into them. The companysays the drones “have been sold extensively worldwide.”
In South Korea, DoDAAM Systems, a defense contractor, has developed a sentry robot called theSuper aEgis II. Equipped with a machine gun, it uses computer vision to autonomously detect and fire at human targets out to a range of 3 kilometers. South Korea’s military has reportedly conducted tests with these armed robots in the demilitarized zone along its border with North Korea. DoDAAM says it has sold more than 30 units to other governments, including several in the Middle East.
Today, such highly autonomous systems are vastly outnumbered by robotic weapons such as drones, which are under the control of human operators almost all of the time, especially when firing at targets. But some analysts believe that as warfare evolves in coming years, weapons will have higher and higher degrees of autonomy.
“War will be very different, and automation will play a role where speed is key,” says Peter W. Singer, a robotic warfare expert at New America, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, D.C. He predicts that in future combat scenarios—like a dogfight between drones or an encounter between a robotic boat and an enemy submarine—weapons that offer a split-second advantage will make all the difference. “It might be a high-intensity straight-on conflict when there’s no time for humans to be in the loop, because it’s going to play out in a matter of seconds.”
The U.S. military has detailed some of its plans for this new kind of war in aroad map [pdf] for unmanned systems, but its intentions on weaponizing such systems are vague. During a Washington Post forum this past March, U.S. deputy secretary of defense Robert Work, whose job is in part making sure that the Pentagon is keeping up with the latest technologies, stressed the need to invest in AI and robotics. The increasing presence of autonomous systems on the battlefield “is inexorable,” he declared.
Asked about autonomous weapons, Work insisted that the U.S. military “will not delegate lethal authority to a machine to make a decision.” But when pressed on the issue, he added that if confronted by a “competitor that is more willing to delegate authority to machines than we are…we’ll have to make decisions on how we can best compete. It’s not something that we’ve fully figured out, but we spend a lot of time thinking about it.”
Russia and China are following a similar strategyof developing unmanned combat systems for land, sea, and air that are weaponized but, at least for now, rely on human operators. Russia’sPlatform-M is a small remote-controlled robot equipped with a Kalashnikov rifle and grenade launchers, a type of system similar to the United States’ Talon SWORDS, a ground robot that can carry an M16 and other weapons (it was tested by the U.S. Army in Iraq). Russia has also built a larger unmanned vehicle, the Uran-9, armed with a 30-millimeter cannon and antitank guided missiles. And last year, the Russians demonstrated a humanoid military robot to a seemingly nonplussed Vladimir Putin. (In video released after the demonstration, the robot is shown riding an ATV at a speed only slightly faster than a child on a tricycle.)
China’s growing robotic arsenal includes numerous attack and reconnaissance drones. The CH-4 is a long-endurance unmanned aircraft that resembles the Predator used by the U.S. military. The Divine Eagle is a high-altitude drone designed to hunt stealth bombers. China has also publicly displayed a few machine-gun-equipped robots, similar to Platform-M and Talon SWORDS, at military trade shows.
The three countries’ approaches to robotic weapons, introducing increasing automation while emphasizing a continuing role for humans, suggest a major challenge to the banning of fully autonomous weapons: A ban on fully autonomous weapons would not necessarily apply to weapons that are nearly autonomous. So militaries could conceivably develop robotic weapons that have a human in the loop, with the option of enabling full autonomy at a moment’s notice in software. “It’s going to be hard to put an arms-control agreement in place for robotics,” concludes Wendell Wallach, an expert on ethics and technology at Yale University. “The difference between an autonomous weapons system and nonautonomous may be just a difference of a line of code,” he said at a recent conference.
In motion pictures, robots often gain extraordinary levels of autonomy, even sentience, seemingly out of nowhere, and humans are caught by surprise. Here in the real world, though, and despite the recent excitement about advances in machine learning, progress in robot autonomy has been gradual. Autonomous weapons would be expected to evolve in a similar way.
“A lot of times when people hear ‘autonomous weapons,’ they envision the Terminator and they are, like, ‘What have we done?,’ ” says Paul Scharre, who directs a future-of-warfare program at the Center for a New American Security, a policy research group in Washington, D.C. “But that seems like probably the last way that militaries want to employ autonomous weapons.” Much more likely, he adds, will be robotic weapons that target not people but military objects like radars, tanks, ships, submarines, or aircraft.
The challenge of target identification—determining whether or not what you’re looking at is a hostile enemy target—is one of the most critical for AI weapons. Moving targets like aircraft and missiles have a trajectory that can be tracked and used to help decide whether to shoot them down. That’s how the Phalanx autonomous gun on board U.S. Navy ships operates, and also how Israel’s “Iron Dome” antirocket interceptor system works. But when you’re targeting people, the indicators are much more subtle. Even under ideal conditions, object- and scene-recognition tasks that are routine for people can be extremely difficult for robots.
A computer can identify a human figure without much trouble, even if that human is moving furtively. But it’s very hard for an algorithm to understand what people are doing, and what their body language and facial expressions suggest about their intent. Is that person lifting a rifle or a rake? Is that person carrying a bomb or an infant?
Scharre argues that robotic weapons attempting to do their own targeting would wither in the face of too many challenges. He says that devising war-fighting tactics and technologies in which humans and robots collaborate [pdf] will remain the best approach for safety, legal, and ethical reasons. “Militaries could invest in very advanced robotics and automation and still keep a person in the loop for targeting decisions, as a fail-safe,” he says. “Because humans are better at being flexible and adaptable to new situations that maybe we didn’t program for, especially in war when there’s an adversary trying to defeat your systems and trick them and hack them.”
It’s not surprising, then, that DoDAAM, the South Korean maker of sentry robots, imposed restrictions on their lethal autonomy. As currently configured, the robots will not fire until a human confirms the target and commands the turret to shoot. “Our original version had an auto-firing system,” a DoDAAM engineer told the BBC last year. “But all of our customers asked for safeguards to be implemented…. They were concerned the gun might make a mistake.”
For other experts, the only way to ensure that autonomous weapons won’t make deadly mistakes, especially involving civilians, is to deliberately program these weapons accordingly. “If we are foolish enough to continue to kill each other in the battlefield, and if more and more authority is going to be turned over to these machines, can we at least ensure that they are doing it ethically?” says Ronald C. Arkin, a computer scientist at Georgia Tech.
Arkin argues that autonomous weapons, just like human soldiers, should have to follow the rules of engagement as well as the laws of war, includinginternational humanitarian laws that seek to protect civilians and limit the amount of force and types of weapons that are allowed. That means we should program them with some kind of moral reasoning to help them navigate different situations and fundamentally distinguish right from wrong. They will need to have, embodied deep in their software, some sort of ethical compass.
For the past decade, Arkin has been working on such a compass. Using mathematical and logic tools from the field of machine ethics, he began translating the highly conceptual laws of war and rules of engagement into variables and operations that computers can understand. For example, one variable specified how confident the ethical controller was that a target was an enemy. Another was a Boolean variable that was either true or false: lethal force was either permitted or prohibited. Eventually, Arkin arrived at a set of algorithms, and using computer simulations and very simplified combat scenarios—an unmanned aircraft engaging a group of people in an open field, for example—he was able to test his methodology.
Arkin acknowledges that the project, which was funded by the U.S. military, was a proof of concept, not an actual control-system implementation. Nevertheless, he believes the results showed that combat robots not only could follow the same rules that humans have to follow but also that they could do better. For example, the robots could use lethal force with more restraint than could human fighters, returning fire only when shot at first. Or, if civilians are nearby, they could completely hold their fire, even if that means being destroyed. Robots also don’t suffer from stress, frustration, anger, or fear, all of which can lead to impaired judgment in humans. So in theory, at least, robot soldiers could outperform human ones, who often and sometimes unavoidably make mistakes in the heat of battle.
“And the net effect of that could be a saving of human lives, especially the innocent that are trapped in the battle space,” Arkin says. “And if these robots can do that, to me there’s a driving moral imperative to use them.”
The U.N. has been holdingdiscussions on lethal autonomous robots for close to five years, but its member countries have been unable to draw up an agreement. In 2013,Christof Heyns, a U.N. special rapporteur for human rights, wrote an influential report noting that the world’s nations had a rare opportunity to discuss the risks of autonomous weapons before such weapons were already fully developed. Today, after participating in several U.N. meetings, Heyns says that “if I look back, to some extent I’m encouraged, but if I look forward, then I think we’re going to have a problem unless we start acting much faster.”
This coming December, the U.N.’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons will hold a five-year review conference, and the topic of lethal autonomous robots will be on the agenda. However, it’s unlikely that a ban will be approved at that meeting. Such a decision would require the consensus of all participating countries, and these still have fundamental disagreements on how to deal with the broad spectrum of autonomous weapons expected to emerge in the future.
In the end, the “killer robots” debate seems to be more about us humans than about robots. Autonomous weapons will be like any technology, at least at first: They could be deployed carefully and judiciously, or chaotically and disastrously. Human beings will have to take the credit or the blame. So the question, “Are autonomous combat robots a good idea?” probably isn’t the best one. A better one is, “Do we trust ourselves enough to trust robots with our lives?”
This article appears in the June 2016 print issue as “When Robots Decide to Kill.”
I wrote an excellent set of lyrics to a Blues song today I’m calling I Done Paid (In Full).
Started a second Blues song (though I may make it a rock or even a pop song) called Stop Dis Missing Me.
Which I’m pleased with thus far but it is far from finished and I got two or three different ways I can go with it, and just haven’t decided yet.
I also have a backlog of about 150 to 200 songs (the lyrics that is) completed now which I have been unable to compose the music for. Unfortunately I have had no time to compose in the past year. Between my wrist surgery and working on my novel, my book of poetry, my start-up, helping my wife with her new career, and my inventions I have had no time to compose music at all. (I’m a slow composer anyway.) All I’ve had time to do is write the lyrics.
So, if you are a composer looking for a lyricist, or even a band looking for a song-writer then I’d like to talk to you. We can enter into a joint songwriting agreement.
But I’m only looking for serious and ambitious people who want to produce and sell finished, entirely completed songs. I write in a variety of musical styles and genres, everything from Blues to Rock, from Bluegrass to Opera, Pop, and even Religious music. I have a wide range of musical interests, plus I have some unfinished compositions that I’d be willing for others to take a look at right now and finish if they wish. Splitting the Work and the Profits evenly, of course.
I would prefer working with people in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia, so that we can meet and even work some in each other’s company but I’m not necessarily limiting myself to those in SC, NC, or GA. With the right composer or people, and if we can establish a good and productive working relationship, then I could work with anyone in the United States, or even in other parts of the world.
I’m not gonna set artificial limits on this, the important thing is that we are good at what we do and can produce excellent Work together.
If you are interested then leave a message here or contact me by email.
P.S.: you can see some prior examples of my song lyrics in this archive category: My Writings and Work
You’ll have to look for them though. All of my work is listed in that archive, not just my songs.