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Blind Boy Apollo
and the All-White Astronauts

New Age "Asiatic" thought ... is establishing itself as the
hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. (Zizek)

Thursday, May 22

follow the money

Back in February, 2003, Daniel Dennett gave a talk at TED. You know about TED, right? If not, here's what the site's source code says:
<meta name="description" content="TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is an invitation-only event where the world's leading thinkers and doers gather to find inspiration..."
If you didn't know about TED, that's probably because you weren't invited. And that would be because you're essentially nobody. Me, I was never invited.

But moving on to Dennett's talk, which was titled Can we know our own minds? Here's a clip from a few minutes into it...

“ Rod Brooks was saying yesterday, what we are, what each of us is, what you are, what I am, is approximately a hundred trillion little cellular robots. That's what we're made of. No other ingredients at all, we're just made of cells, about a hundred trillion of them. Not a single one of those cells is conscious. Not a single one of those cells knows who you are, or cares.”

As far as I could make out, Dennett was talking about various ways your brain tricks you when you're really not there at all. In keeping with his method of demonstrating how this works, I have purposely misdirected your hypothetical brain by highlighting the word "conscious" in the quote above. Thus, I have tricked you -- as has Dennett -- into thinking this has something to do with consciousness. What the sleight of hand has made all but cognitively invisible here is the offhand reference to Rodney Brooks.

Having worked at the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute in the early '90s, I first encountered Books deep in the context of that particular <koff> scientific pursuit. And I've since kept track of his career trajectory, in an admittedly amateurish sort of way. For instance, I know that he was once the subject (among three others) of a movie called Fast, Cheap and Out of Control. Here's a still from the film...

I also know that, in addition to teaching at MIT, he is co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of iRobot Corporation, the cute name a tip-o-the-hat to Isaac Asimov and his three laws of robotics. Let's recap those Laws, shall we?

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

It's pretty clear from this that the First Law is primary in more ways than one. Something about not injuring human beings, if I read it correctly. But who knows? I'm no scientist.

Here's a really cool robot iRobot makes...

As the graphic makes clear, this is the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle. But what about FCS? The iRobot page explains a bit more...

As a key partner in the U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) program, iRobot is developing a next-generation SUGV, a portable, reconnaissance and tactical robot that can enter and secure areas that are either inaccessible or too dangerous for soldiers. SUGV provides real-time intelligence and complete situational awareness while keeping troops out of harm’s way.
So far, so good. Not injuring human beings or, through inaction, allowing human beings to come to harm. Fucking laudable.

But hmmm. The U.S. military is always more interesting than it first appears in the PR handouts. So google, google, look a little deeper. Now, these FCS guys don't look quite so harmless...

Nor does this explanatory graphic from an FCS/DARPA PDF.

Or try the "DarpaTech Future Combat Systems Communications Poster" from this DARPA page.

In conclusion, do not be led astray by ultra-hip TED presentations by Santa Claus lookalike DOD-whoring "philosophers" like Daniel Dennett, who would like you to believe that the hundred trillion tiny robots that make up your non-conscious mind are subliminally telling you to fund billions of dollars worth of not-so-tiny military robots. DARPA's robotics and artificial intelligence fantasies have always been about injuring a great many human beings, however much their sick dreams are couched in fancy-ass First-Law double talk. The following is from The Geeks of War: The Secretive Labs and Brilliant Minds Behind Tomorrow's Warfare Technologies (p. 125) in the chapter titled "Fitter Fighters."
"[A few years after the research was conducted], we reported experiments in primates showing that a brain-machine interface could, indeed, control a robot arm," says Nicolelis. "While this was a first-generation system, it proved to us that there was an enormous opportunity to pursue research leading to clinical applications. We are extremely grateful to DARPA for their vision in establishing a program that will provide the crucial support to launch this effort."

(graphic added)

And you thought that whole Cyberdyne Systems thing was science fiction. Guess again.


The following is from an excerpt of a new book by Nick Turse (thanks, Mike) called The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives. It starts off talking about iRobot's consumer vacuum cleaner (pictured).
...Roomba's manufacturer, iRobot, takes in U.S. tax dollars ($51 million of them from the DoD in 2006, more than a quarter of the company's revenue) and turns them into PackBots, tactical robots used by U.S. troops occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, and Warrior X700s -- 250-pound semiautonomous robots armed with heavy weapons such as machine guns, that may be deployed in Iraq this year.

In addition to selling millions of Roombas to civilian consumers, the company uses government tax dollars to make money on the civilian side of its business. According to the company's December 2006 annual report (which listed as its "Research Support Agencies" the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency [DARPA], the U.S. Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command, and the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center), government funding "allows iRobot to accelerate the development of multiple technologies." Yet iRobot retains "ownership of patents and know-how and [is] generally free to develop other commercial products, including consumer and industrial products, utilizing the technologies developed during these projects." It's a very sweet deal. And iRobot is hardly alone.