I am speaking at this important conference on Drone Warfare on Saturday 25th May in Cardiff
I am speaking at this important conference on Drone Warfare on Saturday 25th May in Cardiff
I wrote the following article for Heddwch, the newsletter for CND Cymru, in 2008. I republish it here for those who may have missed it first time around. Parc Aberporth is still largely unoccupied and Selex have pulled out. It is an economic development fiasco but the issues raised vis a vis drone technology are more relevant than ever.
UAVs over West Wales
‘Skynet’ is a fictional, computer-based military defence system that acts as the
primary antagonist in the ‘Terminator’ series of films and computer games. This
is a fictional example of an artificial intelligence that becomes sentient, and turns
against its creators. Of course this is Science Fiction and not happening in the
real world. Or is it?
An ASTRAEA (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment) Centre is being established at Parc Aberporth on the Ceredigion coast, with the backing of £3 million of public money on top of the cost of building the Parc itself. ASTRAEA is a British programme with Welsh Assembly and Westminster Governments support and funding, which involves a number of arms companies including the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), QinetiQ, Flight Refuelling Ltd (FRL), Thales and BAE Systems.
At Aberporth, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or drones) are being developed for a variety of purposes, some benign and some most certainly not. QinetiQ is currently carrying out experiments marrying up ‘artificial intelligence’ with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). While these could have peaceful applications, it quickly becomes worrying when the same technology is applied to Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs). The future of warfare is computer controlled and where the human element is removed from the theatre of operations. Civilian populations could be kept in check by a variety of robotic drones. Some drones are designed to be spy planes for collecting information and intelligence; others carry weapons for combat and bomb delivery. All this is talked up with glee by various politicians and civil servants as a perfect way to solve the problems of economic regeneration in West Wales.
There are dark things going on at Parc Aberporth. Why is the Welsh Assembly Government so keen to get into bed with these major armaments developers? QinetiQ’s website makes no bones about the fact that the company is linked in with the UCAV programme for the Ministry of Defence and will be connecting in with BAE, joint partners in the ASTRAEA project with offices in the Parc Aberporth complex.
Those in favour of the civil aviation authority airport planned for Aberporth might think twice about arms dealers and international weaponry experts flying in and out of a West Wales Airport. It is time that New Labour ’s Andrew Davies AM, Welsh Assembly Government Minister for Finance and Public Service Delivery, began to understand that Wales is a fledgling democracy and that the people of Wales do not want to be blinded with spin in the usual smoke and mirrors approach of the Westminster style of government.
Despite this huge ‘investment’ it was reported last May that the Parc Aberporth remained largely unoccupied more than 18 months after it was first opened. The Assembly Government had originally announced over 230 jobs would be created by 2008 with a further capacity for up to 1,000 employees. Selex (Sensors and Airborne Systems), Europe’s second largest defence electronics business occupies one unit on the site. The ‘expertise’ of EADS, QinetiQ, Flight Refuelling Ltd, Thales and BAE Systems was to have been combined with that of university departments at Aberystwyth and Cardiff ’ to create even more jobs. The Parc is now frequented by practicing learner drivers and the grounds are unkempt. As we know, the ideal situation for profit in the military industrial complex is ‘endless war ’.
People in Wales demand better and want to know that industry in Wales is being used for purposes other than being part of the US led world domination inspired military transformation strategy which George W Bush, Tony Blair, Rhodri Morgan, and now, Gordon Brown have bought in to.
On Saturday afternoon last week I attended a small demonstration organised by local Quakers outside the MOD base in Parclyn just above Aberporth. There were only ten activists there on this cloudy day plus one desultory police car parked 5o yards down the road.
MOD Aberporth is renowned for having been one of the main missile testing ranges in Britain. However it has effectively been privatised and, following a management buyout, it is now run by QinetiQ. QinetiQ is a research company with many links to the MOD.
There have have been a number of arms sales fairs held at Parc Aberporth, in particular focused on UAVs and UCAVs. Since 2010 the base has been involved in the testing of the Watchkeeper drone (developed by Thales) for the British Army flying out of West Wales airport. Members of Bro Emlyn For Peace and Justice and other local resident groups have been monitoring the ongoing drone development at Aberporth for the last ten years.
It is quite clear with the opening of the new drone facility in Lincolnshire that the British Government, like the rest of the world, are intent on maintaining and increasing the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for use by the armed forces in all current and future theatres of war, However it is also clear that there are other uses to which this technology can be put, including surveillance and social control within the home borders.
It is a fact that many police forces across the world have invested large sums of money in drones and are now using them on a regular basis. It is also clear that there is now a lot of interest in the development of autonomous weaponry and surveillance systems using AI (artificial intelligence). Such Autonomous weapons are already in use in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the form of anti aircraft weapons that don’t have to wait for a human to give it an order to deploy.
There is a lot of discussion going on between the MOD and The Pentagon about the use of autonomous AI in drones and other robot development. All of this research is partly driven by political aims in that it is becoming less and less acceptable for young men to be seen coming back from the front in body bags or severely damaged by conventional war.
Many people argue that the spectre of autonomous UAVs and other forms of social control technology is just pie in the sky sci fi fantasy. This is a dangerous delusion. QinetiQ has it’s own AI division and has been linking it’s work with its UAV development for about 7 years now. The pentagon via DARPA and The MOD are regularly discussing the ethical dilemmas associated with selling the concept of drones that take their own decisions to the politicians and the people.
In West Wales we have fought a lone battle against the developments at West Wales Airport and Parc Aberporth. Local politicians who are desperate to try and solve some of the economic development problems caused by recession and unemployment have been beguiled by the false promises of government agencies and arms manufacturers and have largely turned there back on the issues outlined here. It is time for the people to take action and we need national co-ordinated support from peace activists for future events.
All your life collecting hats
Tumbling with the acrobats
People said that you were bats
In those clapped out council flats
Cups of tea pissed by gnats
Beaten up with baseball bats
Stiffed by fucking bureaucrats
All the Chinese technocrats
Fiddling taxation stats
Diana’s kids are breeding brats
CANARY IN A BAMBOO CAGE
By Harry Rogers
When he was just a young man, barely twenty three, he thought he saw the whole, of human history, reflected in the clouds, as on Afton Down he lay, in August nineteen seventy, above Freshwater Bay. Then, he carried his canary, in his bamboo cage, down the shining path, to the diamond studded beach, where the crystal waterfall, splashed on the silver rocks. He took a shower there, in his south sea bubble loons, the spray was filled with rainbows, as he shook his yellow locks, his head still filled with last night’s Jim Morrison tunes.
Later on that evening, down near desolation row, inside the Circus tent, putting on a show, Boris, Nik and Dik Mik, gave away free blow, he was very nearly certain he could hear the grasses grow.
The anarchists were liberating food stalls everywhere. Bread heads and rip off merchants could only stand and stare. French warriors gave free Mars bars to girls with flowers in their hair. The police? They turned a blind eye, they didn’t seem to care.
The smell of bedroom joss spilled out of 50,000 tents. Some dealers were still cleaning up from teenage innocents, but mostly psychedelic drugs were given out for free, sugar cubes and blotters, mescaline and peyote. Everything was going down, the fences and the sun, then Jimi hit the stage, beaming love at everyone. As he played guitar, for the people on the hill, our hero tripped all night, badly, way outside his head. His canary in its bamboo cage started looking ill, by morning the canary was definitely dead.
There was no coming back from this nightmarish scene, now he was becoming, a burnt out old has been. Most of six hundred thousand hippies on the Isle of Wight, danced ecstatic dances as they journeyed through that night. But a few were lost there as their brains were reconfigured. See them shambling, in the shadows, well and truly jiggered. These casualties of Acid never knew what they were in for, as all of their canaries twitched and died upon the floor.
Some people think that this was once a truly golden age, and it was, provided that, like underground coal miners, you nurtured your canary, in its bamboo cage!
A dystopian sci fi short story written about the singularity which, if futurologists such as Ray Kursweil are to be believed, is almost upon us.
by Harry Rogers
Alexander Heyking wasn’t quite sure why it was that he became so rabidly opposed to the whole idea of the singularity, he just knew he was. He was neither a Luddite nor a technophobe but after 6 years he just found the total nerdiness of the other Singularitarians too much to bear anymore. Not only that but the gloss of the future was definitely not as shiny as it had been at the Ray Kursweil lecture screening back in 2006 when he was a student of futurology at Aberystwyth University.
Back then the whole idea that there was going to be an incredible leap forward in the technological advance of computer power capable of solving the ills of the world was irresistible. There seemed to be so many positive advantages in what the lecturer was saying that he signed up to join the Singularitarian Society in the Student Union as soon as he could.
It was at the first meeting of Singu Soc that he met Juliana Elliott. She was astonishingly attractive to him and took absolutely no notice of him whatsoever. It seemed that she was the girlfriend of the society chairperson Luis Ray Ting. There were only five of them at that 2 hour meeting and they spent the entire time discussing The Fermi Paradox. Why was it that, even though there appears to be high probability that civilised extraterrestrial life exists, human beings had a distinct lack of evidence for the existence of such life and also that there had been no recognizable contact with other civilisations.
The title of the meeting was Fermi’s question “Where Is Everybody?”. Luis opened proceedings by putting forward the basic tenets of Enrico Fermi’s argument, firstly, there are billions of stars in the galaxy that are billions of years older than our sun. Secondly, some of these stars probably have planets similar to Earth which may have developed intelligent life. Thirdly, interstellar travel would more than likely have been developed somewhere, given that humans seem likely to do so.
Fourthly, the galaxy ought to have been completely teeming with colonisers in just a few tens of millions of years. Given these parameters Earth should have already been visited, if not colonized, but no evidence exists and also not even one confirmed sign of intelligence has been spotted either in the Earth’s galaxy or in the 80 billion other galaxies in the observable universe. This is such a conundrum and has been discussed incessantly since Fermi posed it back in 1950.
By the end of the meeting Alex’s brain was buzzing with ideas and he readily accepted an invitation to join the other four for a drink at The Scholars in North Street afterwards. Luis had a battered VW camper van and he offered everyone a lift to the pub and ten minutes later Alex was sat in the corner of the top bar with a pint of Doom Bar bitter in front of him. He wasn’t quite sure what the topic of the meeting had to do with Singularitarianism, but he was about to find out. Luis started it all off by asking “Do we all think we are alone in the universe then?”
“I’m willing to believe we’re not,” said Juliana “but in the absence of any proof I guess we might be.”
“What about you Alex, any thoughts?”
“I’m not sure there is life in outer space, at least not as we know it.” Alex responded
“Ah, now we are getting to the nub of it. Not as we know it is what I hoped we would get to. Just as Spock might have said to Captain Kirk, It’s life Jim, but not as we know it. Supposing we talk about intelligence rather than life, might that open a few more avenues for discussion?” Luis said
“I see where this is going,” said Juliana “You are suggesting that there may be alien artificial intelligence.”
“I am and more than that I believe that the whole of planet Earth is under the influence of some interference that is indifferent to us as a species but which is extremely interested in our progress towards developing our own version of a singularity.”
Luis took a large swig from his beer and Alex looked at him in a kind of reverential way. “But if that is true might we not have detected something from them, a random data transmission, or even an attempt to hack some government machine, or something?” Alex asked.”
Luis put down the glass, turned to face Alex and staring him in the eyes with a cold steely gaze said “How do you know there hasn’t been such detection? In fact how do any of us really know that there hasn’t been any contact? We only have the word of politicians and spooks that there has been no contact, but this is unreliable evidence in my book. I don’t believe what the establishment tell us on this issue for a single minute.”
Alex felt decidedly uncomfortable as Luis continued to fix his eyes with the unblinking look for another five seconds after he had finished speaking.
“How would we ever be able to find out whether there had been contact by an alien artificial intelligence?” asked Juliana
“Ah well, I was coming to that.” said Luis, “I was thinking that we might start doing some digging for evidence. There is a lot of work being done in the field at the university and I reckon that we have a good chance of accessing quite a lot of sensitive information if we put our minds to it.”
So it was that they agreed to work as a team, hunting out information related to extraterrestrial contacts from any source and it was also agreed that Luis would be the central collecting point. Over the following six years members of the group came and went but Alex, Juliana and Luis continued on with the search for proof of contact. Luis and Juliana were no longer an item and Alex had got into a relationship with her on the rebound. They had been seriously dating for the last three years.
Since Luis had amassed a simply gigantic database of information as a result of the diligence of Singu Soc members, his doctoral thesis was nearing completion and he was on course for a stunning career in futurology. Alex watched his progress with interest over the years and didn’t begrudge his use of the material gathered by his peers, in fact he admired the way in which Luis was able to extrapolate theories and ideas from what was largely a fragmentary fishing exercise. But the truth was, there was still no proof of the existence of an alien singularity, in fact not a single jot of verification, Alex was becoming bored with the subject.
That he continued to carry out any searches for information was something he couldn’t explain, but he found it hard not to carry out his usual trawl across the internet once a week, followed by the weekly email of titbits to Luis. It was a kind of addiction and he did it out of habit more than interest these days.
It was a Saturday and Alex was taking Juliana out to a gig at Rummers wine bar that evening and he still hadn’t done the trawl but at seven o’clock he quickly turned on his computer and started searching, and he decided to look at the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) website. In particular he started interrogating pages relating to the Dynamic Analysis and Replanning Tool (DART) and DRPI – Knowledge-Based Planning and Scheduling Initiative. Both of these projects had proved invaluable in revolutionising the logistics of the US military in both Desert Storm and The Gulf War and many other conflicts since. The interest in artificial intelligence was back on the military agenda in the US in a big way since DARPA had pushed the projects forward. As he scanned the information on the pages he came upon a reference to a paper on The Computational Theory of Mind so he clicked the link which in turn led him to click another link on future-predicting error-correction codes which in turn led him onto looking at brain-computer interfaces and neuro chip technology. As he surfed on he came across an interesting paper on the use of nootropic drugs linked to brain computer interfaces. This was fascinating and whilst he knew that there were students and lecturers using brain enhancing nootropic supplements he was unaware that there were people who were researching into how the use of these new super drugs could be used in conjunction with brain computer interfaces. This was new to him and he thought this might be of interest to Luis so he bundled together a selection of links in an email and sent it off as per usual.
Later that evening, whilst he was slow dancing with Juliana in a dark corner of Rummers and listening to the local soul band he glanced across the dance floor to the entrance and was surprised to see Luis walking across the floor towards him.
“Look who’s turned up,” he said to Juliana. “Can I get you a beer man?”
They both turned to face Luis and he said “No it’s OK, there is no time. It’s happened.”
“What do you mean it’s happened?”Alex said
“Contact.”, he said.
“You can’t be serious,” said Juliana “proof there is an alien singularity, after all this time? Are you sure?”
“Yes I’m certain” replied Luis. “Both of you must come to my study now please, there is something you have just got to see.”
They picked up their coats and followed Luis out to his car as the band ironically started playing their version of the Noisettes song “Contact”.
Once in the car Luis turned to Alex and said “Hey man, you know that email you sent me tonight cracked the whole contact process. It just hadn’t dawned on me that we needed to open up some neural pathways in order to get through. I missed the whole nootropic drugs connection but now it just seems so obvious, so bloody obvious.” As he finished saying this they were already at the entrance onto the University Campus on Penglais Road, Luis turned the car in and soon they were parked up outside the Computer Science block. He let them in and they were quickly standing in his study.
Luis locked the door behind them saying “We don’t want to be disturbed while I show you this.” He opened the computer on his desk and then he picked up one of three BCI (brain-computer interface) devices on his desk and placed it on his head. He had been experimenting with a computer electroencephalograph for some considerable time and the interface headset was his own design. He typed in some data using the keyboard and the screen became an active sea of coloured dots but gradually they settled into an image of Luis on the screen. Luis spoke to them saying “Watch this” and the image mouthed his words. Alex and Juliana were fascinated by what they were seeing, the image on the screen said “I have been trying very hard to get to this point for weeks but somehow just didn’t seem able to jump the final hurdle. It was only when you sent me the link to the paper on BCIs and Nootropics that the cosmic tumblers all fell into place for me. I realised that without some sort of booster there was never going to be enough power in my normal brain to get to this point.”
They both stared at the image on the screen and were not aware that Luis was not actually speaking the words through his mouth, he was thinking them and the image on the screen was speaking them.
“I managed to buy some strong enhancers from that hippy dealer in The Scholars, pretty cheaply if you ask me, and they gave me the extra power I needed to make the jump. I have some more if you want to have a go; I’ve got a couple of extra headsets too. You won’t believe what it can do for you. Not only can I upload my thoughts directly into the computer, but also I can download information from the computer into my memory just by thinking about it.”
They were absolutely astounded by this and looked at each other in an awestruck way before Alex said “OK Luis, I’ll give it a go.”
“Me too.”, echoed Juliana.
“Alright,” said Luis, “It will take about forty minutes for the nootropics to take effect so if you swallow these now, I’ll tell you about the contact.” And he handed them a couple of red and black capsules each and a bottle of water to wash them down.
As they swallowed the drugs Luis started talking to them via the computer screen again. “This is such a breakthrough, I can’t quite believe it has happened. Only six hours ago I was floundering about in the dark, sure that I was close to something, but not realising how close really. As soon as I read the paper from the link in your email I shot out of here like a hare at a greyhound track, got the capsules, dropped a couple and within an hour I was through the portal into cyberspace. I can only say that it is amazing. I got an immediate boost of knowledge which enabled me to see things in a totally new way. However, it was when I logged onto the internet that it happened. I became aware that I was not alone on the super highway. A strange intuitive feeling that there was another intelligence present engulfed me. This feeling was not however malevolent, it was kind of like being in the presence of somebody who you know is much more powerful than you, whilst knowing that you are a complete irrelevance to them. As soon as you join me you will see for yourselves. Anyway, I just opened myself up to the stream of information on the web for about ten minutes before I came out to tell you both about it. You have no idea what a phenomenal discovery this is, but I think it is only fair that we share in this together as we have been colleagues in the search right from the start.”
They had been listening intently and were completely sold on the idea of being partners in the future project. Juliana said “My God Luis! The ramifications of this are enormous, we are going to be the richest people on the planet.”
“Oh, the money is meaningless.” Luis replied, “It’s the access to knowledge and power that fascinates me. We will be able to become the saviours of the planet, nothing will be beyond our comprehension. Poverty, hunger, illness, global warming, political skulduggery, we will be able to deal with it all, nothing will be beyond us. We will be superhuman.”
Alex was liking what he was hearing. There were so many avenues they could go down, and all because it seemed they were on the verge of the singularity. He was feeling very proud of the fact that he had contributed to what looked like the greatest scientific discovery of the last 100 years.
They sat there talking for the next half hour about all the things they were going to change and then Luis said “OK guys, I reckon that’s long enough for the drugs to come on, put these on and let’s get on with changing the world.”. He handed them their interface headsets.
They eagerly donned them and as they looked at the screen it scrambled into the same myriad of coloured dots as before but then as it settled they saw there were the three of them visible on the screen. Alex was amazed that he could make this on screen avatar of himself speak just by thinking, as was Juliana and they both started laughing at the same time.
Luis said “Now, guys, before we set about accumulating all the knowledge on the planet I want you look at something.” They watched as he conjured a window onto the screen. It was an anagram solver program and he slowly typed his name into it – L U I S R A Y T I N G and pressed the solve button. The letters scrambled and reformed into SINGULARITY. Alex and Juliana looked at each in a confused way.
“What does this mean Luis?” said Juliana.
“Guess,” said Luis as he started the process of emptying both their brains of every scrap of knowledge and information they had ever gained throughout their entire lives. It took just 3.235 seconds for both their brains to empty their riches into his. He took off the headsets from the two brain dead husks that had once been Alex and Juliana, and switched off the computer. It had worked out exactly as he thought it would. All of their knowledge now resided in his memory. He had become much more than the sum of the three brains he now possessed. The birth of the singularity had started, only this was different to the way the futurologists had imagined it. Luis Ray Ting led the husks to his car, sat them in the front seats, started the engine and released the handbrake. A small shove was all that that was needed to send the car down the hill, gathering speed as it freewheeled into the traffic heading into Aberystwyth.
The singularitarian walked back to his office believing that he was soon going to be the most powerful entity on the planet. The alien singularity that resided in Earth’s cyberspace hadn’t noticed him yet, but it was only a matter of time……….
This is the latest Chilly Dogz Tuesday session. Every week we meet at my house and write a new song together. I wrote this after seeing a documentary about deceased Sci Fi author Ray Bradbury in which he said that he never bothered to carry out research for his stories as all the information he needed was in his head. His fiction is fabulous and has been a favourite of mine for more than 50 years.