There’s no defense-splaining away the dissent at Google
Former secretary of defense Ash Carter’s “A letter to a young Googler” (Opinion, June 7) condescends to workers at the tech giant by asking them to reconsider their statement that “Google should not be in the business of war.”
This needs some context. Carter’s first example, the Manhattan Project, is flawed. Scientists such as Albert Einstein came to bitterly regret their contributions to the atom bomb. High-ranking military commanders such as General Dwight D. Eisenhower considered their use militarily unnecessary. Even Major General Curtis Lemay, never to be confused with a dove, said in September 1945, “The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.”
The rest of Carter’s arguments are equally unconvincing.
Google should help the military develop AI systems because if its engineers don’t, someone less qualified will, rendering them “needlessly destructive”? That’s almost threatening.
Googlers are hypocrites because they’ve helped the Chinese government with censorship? That’s exactly the kind of whataboutism we need to remove from moral and political debates.
Carter’s last assertion is that Google owes service to our armed forces because they make the world “safer, freer, and more peaceful.” The man who was in charge of the Pentagon when we began our support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen should know that that assertion is debatable. The military is not, in and of itself, an American value. Principled dissent is.
Massachusetts Peace Action
We’re perilously poised at a nuclear threshold already
Former defense secretary Ash Carter makes the remarkable claim that Manhattan Project scientists developed “effective command-and-control systems” that reduce the risk of nuclear war. While there has never been a nuclear attack since 1945, the United States many times has come terrifyingly close to launching missiles in response to false alarms.
Nuclear missiles remain on high alert so that they can be launched within minutes at the president’s order. He can launch in response to an attack or the false perception of an attack. He can launch just because he feels like it or in a fit of insanity. There are virtually no checks on his authority. It is hardly a safe and effective command-and-control system.
An alternative letter to the Googlers
In opposition to Ash Carter, I too would like to address the employees at Google who have told their CEO that the company “should not be in the business of war.”
I grew up with “duck and cover,” air raid drills, and Office of Civil Defense bunkers in my grade school basement.
Many who worked on the Manhattan Project were aghast when they saw their results instantly obliterate two cities in Japan with the ultimate “disruptive” technology.
Sixty years later, the United States and Russia still have thousands of nuclear weapons on hair triggers 24-7.
It’s said that, during the Cuban missile crisis, a potentially world-ending disaster was avoided only because of one Soviet submarine officer who refused to authorize a missile launch against the US mainland.
As with most advanced technologies, the ethics regarding use lag far behind the innovation, production, and use.
AI will be no different.
If artificial intelligence becomes artificial general intelligence, as almost all of those in the field are working toward, then that could then lead to ASI, or artificial superintelligence.
If the control of such a technology isn’t carefully monitored, and the ethics aren’t seriously considered ahead of time, then the technology may be concerned for our welfare about as much as many of us are when we step on an anthill.
Instead of getting engaged in helping the Defense Department take us to the next level of deadly weapons technologies, every one of you should join other Americans in insisting on a halt to the never-ending race for the power to destroy us all.