back to article Register Lecture: Right to strike when your boss sells AI to the military?

AI is revolutionising our roads, workplaces, homes – and warfare. And not everybody is happy about it. 2018 saw 3,000 Googlers protest against their company’s participation in the US Department of Defense's project Maven, using TensorFlow to build a computer-vision system for drones to identify humans. Google withdrew from …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh. come ON!

    When did the first commercial company discover that it could make more money by selling to the military as well? 5,000 BC maybe?

    When did the first pacifist quit their job in such a company? 4,999 BC maybe?

    When did the first pacifist think they could refuse to work on those products but still keep their frikkin' job? 2018 AD maybe?

    Oh, come ON!

    The way to control the military is through the political ballot box.

    Googly downvotes may be placed below.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oh. come ON!

      Easy with that word 'pacifist'.

      You can support the troops while protesting the war.

    2. NoneSuch
      FAIL

      The Eternal Cycle Continues...

      Drones kill people, without trial or in some cases without any evidence of wrong doing. Their family members get angry and seek revenge. Farmer waiting at the side of the road waiting for his cousin to pick him up, drone pilot see a suspected ISIS member planting a road side bomb. *blam* Wedding party in progress, drone pilot sees suspected terrorist gathering. *blam*

      Terror levels rise when those folks get tired of the murder and start shooting back. More drones are fielded to combat the rise in hostilities, etc. etc.

      In the meantime, corporations get mega-wealthy supplying flying instruments of death, while normal people pay the price.

      The Americans kill more people annually than all terrorist organizations combined, and by a wide margin. Arrogance tempered with ignorance and funded with greed.

      1. LucreLout Silver badge

        Re: The Eternal Cycle Continues...

        Drones kill people, without trial or in some cases without any evidence of wrong doing.

        You're going to find that on a battlefield, there are no trials. See someone from the enemy force (traditionally simply wearing the uniform of the other side counts), and you shoot them. The same thing applies if you're in a fighter jet, or a mall on the other side of the Atlantic piloting a drone.

        drone pilot see a suspected ISIS member planting a road side bomb. *blam*

        drone pilot sees suspected terrorist gathering. *blam*

        You're getting irrationally hung up on the drone bit. If a pilot, soldier, or any other member of the armed forces sees a terrorist planting an IED or gathering for an attack it is expressly their job to eliminate those people. Forget the drone part because its causing you to miss the important bits.

        Now, that's not to say mistakes won't be made, but the mistake would have been made from the cockpit of a jet or through the scope of a sniper rifle. It really doesn't matter that it was made in theatre or in Atlanta.

        The only way to reduce civillian casualties in war is for combatants to wear clearly marked uniforms and for them to stay away from civillians. If the combatants dress as civillians and the civillians allow them to comingle, then both groups have accepted the increased risk of civillian casualties; you can't simply deflect that onto those being shot at or bombed.

  2. boltar Silver badge

    A conscience is a fine thing

    But naivety helps no one. The military will use AI with or without your companies help and if you're part of the solution then perhaps you can guide the way its used whereas if you simply throw your toys out the pram they'll go elsewhere perhaps to somewhere less ethical. So what have you achieved other than making yourself feel virtuous?

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: A conscience is a fine thing

      If you find yourself working on a project with which you don't agree you should be able to ask to work on something else. If that isn't possible then a change of employer might be required.

      Don't think it really matters whether this "dual use" military stuff or, say, genetic sequencing for the cosmetic industry, etc.

      1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us

        It's not the military, corporate entities, political system, or the government of the day that's the problem - we are the people who pay them, fund them, think that they have all the answers, and vote them into office.

    2. MrMerrymaker

      Re: A conscience is a fine thing

      I don't see why under any circumstances I should involve myself. I accept they might do it anyway, but why tarnish myself?

      1. boltar Silver badge

        Re: A conscience is a fine thing

        "I don't see why under any circumstances I should involve myself. I accept they might do it anyway, but why tarnish myself?"

        Thats obviously your decision, but if you work for an employer who wants to then you should just leave rather than trying to force the company not to do it.

      2. LucreLout Silver badge

        Re: A conscience is a fine thing

        I don't see why under any circumstances I should involve myself

        Working for your employer on projects they assign you is your job. Sorry, but you don't get to pick and choose what work your employer assigns you - thankfully you are free to pick another employer.

        I've no problem working on weapons technology and have done so in the past (my involvement was admittedly very meta). In the unlikely event the payload for the product is ever used, it'll make all drone deaths seem like a rounding error on a rounding error. In the meantime it keeps our country safe and prevents civillian deaths because we can't be invaded conventionally.

        You can't project your ethics onto your employer - you can't even project your ethics onto your friends or family. Your ethics, however derived or deeply held, are not my ethics and my ethics are not those of the next man. It's one to the main reasons why companies and people do things you consider to be unethical and why you do things others think are unethical.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: A conscience is a fine thing

          As a Quaker I started having these issues when my agency started booking me work on military bases. I could have chosen not to take the bookings, they would have been assigned to somebody else in the team. As the work was back office IT admin in the out-sourced canteens I felt that it was sufficiently non-military to be acceptable to my personal conscience.

          It's like working for Fletcher's Bakers - some of their bread is bought by the military, so are you going to chose not to work for them?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A conscience is a fine thing

      You mean, like if we're told to make pr0n, we should try and make it more tasteful, to lessen the chance of people being objectified?

    4. smudge Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: A conscience is a fine thing

      if you simply throw your toys out the pram

      I don't think that exercising personal ethics is "throwing your toys out of the pram".

      A long time ago, I used to work - in information security - for a deceased UK systems house. This gave me opportunities to work right across the company's client base, from commercial clients to government and defence. I always refused to work on weapons systems, but I did work on things like command & control and logistics systems. Some would say that they are just as much an essential part of the killing machine as the pointy things that go bang - I understand that, but that's where my boundaries were at that time.

      I also refused to go to countries such as Saudi Arabia. Partly because I thought they were corrupt dictatorships, and partly because there is no way I was going to a place like that as a security consultant. Events over the years - including recent events in Turkey and in the UAE - have confirmed that. (For balance, I'd probably have said the same about Israel, if that had ever come up.)

      Now I have no idea whether companies nowadays tolerate such behaviour from their staff. It was certainly less likely in my company by the time I retired...

      1. boltar Silver badge

        Re: A conscience is a fine thing

        "For balance, I'd probably have said the same about Israel, if that had ever come up."

        Hardly balanced. For all its faults Isreal is a democracy. Thats not something you can accuse Saudi Arabia of. There are far worse countries human rights wise in that region than isreal, but then they're not jewish states so their actions don't get the anti semites worked up.

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Commswonk Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Iraq

      You forgot the <euphemism> </euphemism> tags in your post.

  4. Jay Lenovo Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    That personal touch

    AI killing is so cold and methodical.

    I guess we would prefer the operation to be more "warm and fuzzy".

    The type of killing, great grandpa used to make.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: That personal touch

      The type of killing, great grandpa used to make.

      That depends who is grandpa. AI is not by any means the first attempt at Cold and Methodical.

      I can speak for myself - Mine died in the skies above Europe fighting the ones who were on the side of the "Cold and Methodical". Prior to that he fought them over Spain too.

      My wive's grandpa died on the ground when the "Cold and Methodical" decided that some "obscure Balkan untermench" with no combat experience armed with mix of surplus, leftovers and museum exhibits from both allies and axis" will be a pushover. To be more specific he was one of the ones who stopped the "Cold and Methodical" group E from that event.

      Yeah, I know unpopular activities - standing your ground against Cold and Methodical in this day and age. We are now supposed to cheer the cold and methodical(*).

      Our grandparents are probably spinning in their graves at 10k RPM...

      So frankly, we have been here before. Trusting the business of terminating people to Cold and Methodical is something we all know. We know where it ends up. It is a lucky day that it will end up with only 40M graves mark the success of people against Cold and Methodical. So frankly, this should be human business. No "Cold and Methodical". AI or not.

      (*) If you are wondering about the link - see the non-regulation insignia on the 3rd paratrooper first line counting right to left. Compare to the "Cold and Methodical".

      1. LucreLout Silver badge

        Re: That personal touch

        Our grandparents are probably spinning in their graves at 10k RPM...

        My grandparents fought. Unusually all survived, though my grandfather bore the camp tatoo and physical scars until the day he died, never having spoken of events during the war. My grandmother never forgave the Germans or the Japanese; she simply couldn't move past it.

        They would have loved AI. The potential medical advances, labour saving, and entertainment value would have been worth it to them.

        If you could top all of that with the idea that we could have fought the Nazis remotely, they would have been all for it. Having the best ideology simply doesn't cut it when the rubber meets the road - you need to have the best equipment, the best technology, and the best logistics.

        I'm the first of my family line not to serve. I hope no future generations of my line will have to. Ultimately, that is going to need the best technology, because as the French Resistance proved during the war, the alternative to high tech is low tech and low tech is people.

  5. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

    This is meta

    Obviously at 15 quid a ticket this conference is not profiting from war like Boeing, BAE, Thales, Microsoft, etc. But another day, another dollar, eh? Call it a second order effect. Not only do people profit from war, we profit from complaining about war. Ain't humanity great?

  6. 10forcash Bronze badge

    It's not a real conflict unless humans are at risk on both sides eh?

    Just to even things up, I suppose we should fight ethical wars where all sides have equal armament, resources and training so the real skill of winning comes down to tactics not technology and / or finances.

  7. devTrail

    Hypocritical

    All this story seems just a big hypocritical show to let people forget their impact on the political and economic system in the "peaceful" developed world.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When did the first pacifist think they could refuse to work on those products but still keep their frikkin' job? 2018 AD maybe?

    When you think about all the non-dedicated military stuff that goes into (say) the fully supply and logistics chain for drones, half the population are already involved. Making some broad guesses in a UK context: If you do payroll at Capita you could be paying drone operators, if you do fuel buying at Serco you're maintaining the fuel supply for drones, if you work at a precision metal rolling company you're making the metal that becomes the shims in the drone, and the aircraft that get it out to the warzone; If you work for a tyre maker you could be making tyres for military vehicles of all types, likewise hydraulic hose making, electrical cables, actuators, etc etc etc.

    The mistake Google have made is to promote a sanctimonious corporate image (all that "do no evil" bilge"), and then to actively recruit young, shiney eyed idealists who think that offices contain ping pong tables, bean bags, free fruit and coffee, and actually believed all that claptrap. Now they're taking offence, because they do want to be part of a strong global nation that is able and willing to project lethal force, but the poor lambs at Google had believed that somebody else (probably paid a lot less, and wearing a grubby blue collar) would have to get their hands dirty.

    Welcome to the real world, Googleywoogleys.

    1. LucreLout Silver badge

      recruit young, shiney eyed idealists who think that offices contain ping pong tables, bean bags, free fruit and coffee

      I wholly agree with your post, but this bit..... erm, my office does have all this crap, and free beer, free breakfast and a bunch of other nonsense. Oh the shame :)

  9. 10forcash Bronze badge

    Maybe we've been under an illusion about Google, purely due to a typo

    It's not 'Do No Evil'

    the correct version is:-

    'Do Know Evil'

    Paraphrased from a CMT patch I saw somewhere sandy a good few years ago ;-)

  10. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    In UK - No

    Right to strike when your boss sells AI to the military?

    Thatcher took care of it after the BAE strike to prevent Pinochet to get some toys. You are not allowed to say NAE PASARAN any more. Even if your employer takes a contract to supply Boer War style concentration camp equipment. For example something to implement the ordinance of the council of ministers of a particular government we support dated 8th on November for the "mandatory internment of national minorities from war zones for their own safety (*)". You cannot strike on that. You can quit, but you cannot strike.

    Dunno about the rest of the world. France is definitely yes, Germany probably a yes too though they hardly need to go that far, the reps on the boards tend to take care of stuff like that. USA - probably depends on state quite a bit. As they say YMMV

    (*)As this is one of the languages I can read, but do not have native fluency in, I will not translate it. I do understand the language well enough to guarantee the contents though - it is exactly that. A cut-n-paste from Stalin's "Chechen Management" programme improved by taking into account the similar efforts of Brits to manage Boers and Americans to manage the Japanese.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: In UK - No

      I came here to mention the boys from Glasgow, thanks for doing the same.

      From a practical point of view, In general I think it's probably better to allow workers to openly object rather than souring an otherwise good employer-employee relationship or risking sabotage.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: In UK - No

      > the "mandatory internment of national minorities from war zones for their own safety (*)".

      Err... the document you have linked does not say anything at all about internment of national minorities. It deals with the eventual evacuation of people who are already in detention (convicts and prisoners) from areas controlled by the so-called secessionist groups, or otherwise sensitive areas, into Ukraine proper.

      However, it appears that they have reached some sort of compromise now: https://www.dw.com/en/ukraine-rebels-transfer-prisoners-to-kyiv-controlled-areas/a-46703837

      Careful with that misinformation, the boys on both sides are flinging propaganda in all directions (while the rest of the population, also on both sides, couldn't care less one way or another). :-)

  11. cfaber

    Strike unless

    China

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I prefer a nice game of chess, personally.

  13. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    It's the owners of a company that have the right to decide what a company does - that's what the ownership of private property means. If the workers want to direct the actions of the company they are at perfect liberty to buy it. If the workers do not like producing the products the company produces, they are at perfect liberty to cease working for the company.

  14. Seajay#

    If we had a choice between US military dominance and peace, we would want the peace. In that scenario, supporting the military would be evil.

    But that's not the choice. The real choice is between US military dominance and someone else's military dominance. Whatever you think of America, the alternatives would be much worse. In the real world, failing to support Western militaries is the evil option. Workers should be striking to insist that their company sells the best possible technology to the military.

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