This is a two sided debate but all I see here is people arguing whether tech workers should or should not care about personal politics. The other side is whether the US cares enough about having good technology that they’re willing to act more morally. Perhaps neglecting that possibility shows we don’t even think there’s a chance of that happening
The US military actually doesn’t want that to happen. It invests huge amount of resources in developing processes and tech to minimize collateral damage and civilian deaths. Winning hearts and minds is just as important to the mission as dropping bombs on ISIS and Al Qeada.
That doesn't even touch on the fact that the US involves itself in many conflicts where the enemy combatants are pretty much "innocent" relative to the US, and continually approves arms sales to despotic dictators installed via US-backed regime change. A lot of the unethical actions of the US are outsourced
> According to Stephen J. Lukasik, who as Deputy Director and Director of DARPA (1967–1974) was "the person who signed most of the checks for Arpanet's development":
> The goal was to exploit new computer technologies to meet the needs of military command and control against nuclear threats, achieve survivable control of US nuclear forces, and improve military tactical and management decision making.
I love me some internet, but would I trade it for the possible annihilation of humankind? I'm being facetious, but only slightly; the fact that we wouldn't end up wiping humanity from the face of the earth was far from evident at the time (and still looms).
You can probably run a calculation on how many lives military tech has saved (GPS, drones, evac helicopters), and it may come out as a net benefit, but I'm not sure you'd be able to convince an Afghani that his family's lives were worth an incremental technology improvement.
I choose to believe that we are capable of taking on large experimental projects without them being connected to aggression.
Survivability is exactly what it sounds like. It isn't some conspiracy-theory euphemism for the "annihilation of humankind." It's a key component of MAD and is the one and only reason the Soviets didn't destroy the Western world from Cuba. This is well-documented.
An Afghani is a unit of currency and has neither convictions nor family. I wouldn't be so pedantic usually, but since your very point seems to be the alleged dehumanization of such people, it seemed appropriate to point out that maybe we shouldn't refer to people as inanimate objects.
As far as a civilian Afghan family's lives? That's what the DoD is trying to protect. Explain to me why you think more civilians should die, rather than developing better technology to help distinguish them.
The Reuters journalists in the famous "Collateral Murder" video should not have been killed. I suspect you and I are in agreement on that. What I absolutely fail to comprehend is how you seem to think Google et al. have a moral obligation not to help keep that from happening again.
I personally find this line of reasoning quite compelling. It's pretty clear that precision guided bombs, drones, body armor, and other technologies designed to save lives in war have also made war much more politically palatable for the DOD.
Until you can come up with a viable, demonstrably effective non-military approach to eliminating threats like that, we will continue to need a military capability. I speak as a Brit, about the wider 'we'. British troops are operating in Afghanistan right now, some of them are even Muslims. We're standing by the US, yet we have Americans here advocating undermining your own military, putting US and foreign services lives in greater danger, so they can feel a smug sense of moral superiority while sipping their skinny lattes in a nice comfortable office, just like the ones incinerated in New York in 2001.
Wars are horrible messy affairs. Innocent people suffer. It sucks. But advocating pretending threats don't exist and it's not our problem without addressing the actual issues is an utter abrogation of moral responsibility. Western militaries have gone to huge lengths to improve intelligence gathering techniques and achieve more precise targeting, massively reducing civilian casualties and blue-on-blue incidents. Surely supporting such technologies and programmes is worthwhile?
It's not clear that they conspired , though I suppose you could call them an accessory after the fact for refusing to extradite bin Laden.
That's not only morally repugnant on its face, it's flatly untrue. Greater collateral damage has rarely if ever prevented war. Past wars with high collateral damage have been longer, costlier, and more frequent than they are today.
Even if your utilitarian analysis were stomachably close to moral (it's not), it would still fail any sort of empirical test.
The MAD equilibrium is very fragile!
If the government threw just as much money into civilian research, we'd likely get just as much good, without finding more efficient ways to kill each other.
For instance, Australia has CSIRO , which is sort of like DARPA, but without the military bent. They've managed to invent all sorts of cool new stuff.
(I agree though that public civilian R&D funding is woeful)
Do I understand correctly, then, that if we continue throwing that money into military research, we not only gain the same civilian benefits, but also prevent the occurrence wherein someone else finds an efficient way to kill us before we find an efficient way to defend ourselves from it?
While the US is conventionally excluded from great power analysis (the preceding form of superpower analysis) due to its noninvolvement in European affairs, it was unquestionably one of the major economic engines of the world in the era before WWI.
It just doesn't work like that. WWII was value destruction at a massive scale. All that industry could have been building industry and we'd have had the 50's and 60's a decade earlier but not just for the US.
I see the temptation in avoiding military contracts, but "optics" aside, it's not all bad.
that said we probably shouldn't give the armies too many autonomous killer-bots. I mean it would almost definitely drive some cool technologies being developed for eventual civilian use that would be very difficult to fund privately..but also SkyNet..
basically, I agree with everything you just said, but wanted to elaborate a bit further :)
It’s grotesque to me to muse about the cool tech we could get at the expense of other people’s lives.
Military technology doesn't necessarily mean "tech to kill". it could also be tech to save (from natural disasters, horrors induced by already-existing-weapons, etc.)
i agree that we should avoid developing tech that has the exclusive intent of killing, which is what I was trying to imply with my cute SkyNet comment.
edit to clarify: for any given military tech, one needs to consider the possible ramifications. If a given technology is deemed benign, I see no harm in developing it, even if it is for the military. on the other hand, if it has a big potential for destruction, it's not worth developing it for the military, even if it does come with the upside of enabling cool tech to be developed. autonomous killbots is a perfect example, which would probably advance the robotics field at a accelerated rate, but it provides such a huge potential for destruction that it's simply not worth it.
The latest episode of Citations Needed Podcast (http://citationpod.com/) does a good short review of some particularly agregious situations in which the US military bombs countries then the same or related parties praise themselves for their humanitarian response to the aftermath.
Worse, when you bomb a country, for example, it should be obvious that this sets back all of humanity to some degree. Apparently, it’s not obvious. But Earth and humanity are systems, and this analogy is such that we can look at any other system and find the same outcome. Damage one part, and effects will be felt in the others; often not at simultaneously. Some parts will be stimulated only to be depleted later (like the immune systems in our bodies) and require attention. The US is experiencing this sort of reversal right now, though some are in denial or haven’t caught on to that yet.
look at self-driving cars for example. we had that uber-crash recently, that cost a woman her life. does this show us that tech development in the private sector is obviously bad?
it's a little more case by case than that. which is why, as op so nicely put it, "companies need to take a balanced look".
The true cost would have to entail proportions of the human, social, monetary, and environmental investments in self-driving technology. Manufacturing labor abuse in China and other low-wage hardware sources, the labor issues at Tesla, the abuse scandals, including side effects and aftermath at Uber, techsploitation at large, raising rents in tech hub cities like Bay Area, SF, NYC, associated family separations, including homelessness and related social program ceilings, taxes not paid by these giant corporations fueling the “innovation”, privacy invasions by Google, of which the extents will never be known.
It’s amazing how limited tech workers tend to be when it comes to performing systemic analysis at the societal level.
At the end of the day, millions of people would have more security and stability and happiness in their lives without this pace of technological discovery. At the end of the day, there are some things that should take a higher priority. I’ll assert mutual dignity is one of them.
Instead ethics are what finally seem to have pushed tech workers to unify against their employer's raw immediate financial interests in spite of often having shares to benefit from them. It doesn't even seem to map consistently to either 'mainstream' or 'geek' ethics perfectly either although growing disillusionment with the government appears to be part of it.
I suppose the tech political mainstream also can be considered 'misfit' in other ways not fitting entirely in the typical left or right bounds.
If tech workers are waking up to their class position as labor, learning the power inherent in collective action, refusing to help further US imperialism, that’s something to be celebrated. And if anything, it’s a brilliant recognition of their position relative to other laborers (highly paid and benefitted), that they first use their power for the sake of ethics before pursuing their self-interest.
It’s a bit hard to explain in an HN post, but essentially, the way that labor-oriented political parties are constituted and have their priorities decided in the US is backwards from those in Europe (top-down vs bottom-up). Seth Ackerman outlines this in this podcast episode, if you have time to listen:
I don't believe the proposition that parties in Europe have their priorities decided in a bottom-up manner. And the problem with having labor unions that are not-quite political parties is that you'll end up with unions which are concerned by issue far of from the concerns of the workers, which then tend to not suscribe
But mainly, technical work is just different in nature. It’s a lot more competitive and the hierarchy is more fluid. There’s not an obvious floor like there is with factory workers, where there are a few managers and administrators for hundreds of workers. And the work is almost never manual. Technical workers are also constantly concerned with implementation and that sh were their attention goes. I don’t ever see this actually happening.
And here’s the thing about labor struggle: the reason why Capital owners try to quash it before it gets started is because it’s transformative. Once people see the power they have when they act collectively, what really turns the wheels at work and in society, they’re changed.
Also, once people see things under the facade, such as
> “Letting you ask that question is the voice that you have. Very few companies would allow you to do that.”
There seems to be a reason the labor movement has squandered since the rise of the Military Industrial Complex, and what’s what I’m speaking to.
I hesitate to be certain of where the typo is in your thesis here so I’m not exactly sure of your point. But, I think I do disagree with at least some of what you’re saying.
Tech workers have not unified against anything but the lower class. As long as rents are soaring in every tech hub at a faster rate than anywhere else, while the tech workers’ servants are shoved out of their neighborhoods, you remain hopelessly out of touch. Not even in the ballpark, or planet for that matter.
I can imagine some argument that tech workers have stood up against some internet mischief somewhere; give me a break. You have no idea what that looks like if this is your claim. A
The Googler thingy a few months ago? Let us understand what that was. These employees were embarrassed, ashamed. They were acting out of virtue, pride, shame, not conviction. The difference will be lost on someone not up to speed with the differences, though they are vast...
Compare your Googlers with Edward Snowden. US tech workers have done nothing but let him down. He has single-handedly accomplished and sacrificed more than all other US tech workers combined and then some. Unified? I’m not seeing it.
And now I will defend the Free Software movement, though I’m not sure it’s useful to assume there’s any need. Your criticism of the Free Software movement exemplifies you know not even the exact first thing about activism; it truly is always this: The systemic impossibilities of exiting the system, especially in the name of countering it. All it takes is to consider a step in another’s shoes to realize the aloofness illustrated by your accusation. To articulate such a an accusation is to expose your failure to have even lent a visit to consideration of the matter. Please realize my elaboration is not just me rubbing it in. There’s a tradition (now, because it is fairly recent) of first-world activists confronting this realization of hypocrisy-reversal, if you will. Usually one will keep it to themselves, a result of shame.
That out of the way, the Free Software movement absolutely has the high road here. It’s simply congruent with critical discourse through the (almost) centuries. The standards of Free Software are transparent and accessible, systemically thorough, and community oriented to the teeth, precisely as they should be. To suggest your ‘general will to ethics’ has achieved squat is one thing, but you would do best to keep Free Software out of it.
That wasn't a criticism of free software at all just a note that it hasn't materialized into any sort of career enforcement or fencing in contrast to existing professional movements and demands. Free software is for the software's sake more than levers of power. It shouldn't be expected to really in the same sense that one wouldn't expect to see doctors kidnapping unvaccinated children to immunize them - even if it would technically help with the problem it misses the primary purpose and causes other issues.
I was trying to detach my analysis from my own viewpoints for concern of tooting my own horn.
I had considered pride and exceptionalism as motivations but decided not to delve into them as too speculative and spinny in the same sense of "Did he become a firefighter to impress women, for the pension, or desire to save lives." The why is ironically immediately irrelevant when it comes to society - they are just glad to have someone fighting fires. The relevance only comes in when trying to calibrate numbers.
Let’s take a minimally critical look at Palo Alto’s history. Simply enough, if there was any tide of social consideration amongst these tech communities, Palo Alto, Bay Area, etc. would not have turned into the dystopia it now is. There would be less wealth and more humanity. Theee’s nothing complicated about this unless you insist on disbelief.
The “start-up space” is a misnomer of progressivism.
“Start-ups” are technocratic race-to-the-bottom capitalist entities; precisely the enemy of social concern since the advent of social concern. There’s nothing in Karl Marx’s works that does not apply to start-ups. You’d do best to just call them businesses because this term “start-up” apparently has an addictive element that causes some people’s eyes to glaze over giving a sense of unmitigated positivity. And maybe the hope is positive for themselves but not for others, and that is the problem.
This is very recent: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17682348
> “Everyone’s access to documents got turned off, and is being turned on [on a] document-by-document basis,” said one source. “There’s been total radio silence from leadership, which is making a lot of people upset and scared. … Our internal meme site and Google Plus are full of talk, and people are a.n.g.r.y.”
I wouldn't know if that is true, but on HN, such stories seemed to mostly plummet off the front page, with no commentary by Googlers. It's pretty hard to know what people who can't talk freely are thinking.
Though I agree that there isn't likely to be an equivalent to Snowden's "the American people have a right to know about this so they can make decisions", that is, other than on a personal level.
But let's first and foremost understand that we don't know what either of this "was" or "is", because that involves a whole lot of people, most of whom we haven't heard of, much less candidly. The factuality of that is worth more than speculation and generalization. It does say something in and of itself, something that is not good, but it's still not a canvas onto which we can just draw things, because they cannot or won't protest and nothing can be verified.
> Compare your Googlers with Edward Snowden.
The average Googler is a fiction. There are only the actual people.
When I asked a Googler, who was angry at the accusation that they don't care about the China story, whether or not they would protest against this or threaten to leave, there was 0 response. I assume this would be similar for most Googlers.
Of course they are "a.n.g.r.y." but it seems that this is the extend they are willing to go. Why protest when you can just post on the internal meme board?
You’re right. We haven’t heard. And until we do, we have every reason in the world to doubt it. Google is an utterly dystopian black box surveillance machine and these people have no clue.
This is so far from Marxist class consciousness it’s a joke. Means nothing and will accomplish nothing. This is isn’t even student body politics. They know not the first thing about community or conviction on the level of systemic worker oppression. And you don’t know what conviction is.
Don’t get your point about average Googlers. I didn’t use that phrase.
I really recommend everyone here look at Boots Riley’s new film ‘Sorry To Bother You’.
I suppose the problem with taking a position that says 'I'm not going to work for the military because I disagree with current US foreign policy' is that if/when an existential threat does arise the US might find itself far behind its foe, no?
>that if/when an existential threat does arise the US might find itself far behind its foe, no?
No, or unlikely. Any foreseeable threat is mutually assured destruction, and someone would need to discover a way to disable all nukes they don't control simultaneously for the US to be behind their for. Not only does that seem implausible, actively pursuing the technology would likely cause war.
Their respective militaries, or the American military?
Even the author seems to present a false dichotomy: either tech is benevolent to society or it is driven entirely by the profit motive. Tech can have several motives at once, and one of them may include ensuring the national security of the country that allows large tech companies to operate smoothly and peacefully in a relatively uncorrupt and democratic society.
Does tech make money off of defense? Of course. That should come as news to no one. The DoD is the Fortune 1, the largest customer in the world. There's nothing wrong with selling to them per se. And there's nothing inherently wrong with being "compliant", even though the author seems to consider that a fault. We should assume that all major tech companies are fully compliant. The exist in a matrix of laws they must obey.
One of the important questions we should be asking is: Do we want the US defense establishment to run on good, modern tech or crappy, outdated tech? Large sections of it still run on VAX and Cobol, and they will for the foreseeable future.
It's my personal belief that society is engaged in a global asymmetric war against militant groups, in a technological context where individual actors have access to more and more powerful weapons of destruction. I would hope that the organizations in charge of defending civilians would have the best technology at their disposal to detect and prevent attacks.
It's also clear that Western liberal society in particular is under attack by hostile state actors intent on destabilizing the EU and the US democratic system. The field of battle is online, and if you don't have good tech in that fight, you lose.
I'm not saying the US military is right all the time, or undeserving of criticism. But I would ask people who think good technology should not be supplied to the US military: what outcome do you want? Have you considered the scenario where West liberal democracy loses, and we replace the imperfect system we have with a much worse, authoritarian system without democratic feedback loops. Because that's the endgame if we lose, and we lose without good tech.
 "Major companies had complied with—and profited from—government demands for unwarranted data collection."
 "...tech companies will be forced to choose whether they can feasibly continue to preach the values of liberal-minded innovation and independence from big government while serving as its well-paid and compliant partners."
(I am not saying anything for or against the politics motive.)
I am being objective. If the political opinion was not formulated by senior leadership and passed down through management then it is not likely, at least at the time of expression, the politics of the organization. That said, it is personal politics.
Ethics is not defined by the industry. Ethics is quite literally perceptions of right or wrong in accordance with organizationally defined rules. Right and wrong where rules are either not available or not defined is instead the more generalized term morality. In the example of Google employees' boycott of the drone contract the political action was a moral judgement that graduated to an ethic once senior leadership made a decision.
Applied ethics, are what most people mean when talking about Ethics. They are industry specific and defined by the industry. Normative ethics are near equivalent to morality. Meta-ethics are what Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson like to argue about.
This is very simple for most professions that are defined by licensing or certifications which require conformance to a code of ethics. Ethics in law are not dissimilar from ethics in medicine. In software there is no commonly accepted code of ethics. Instead there are "terms and conditions" and "employment agreements", which typically do not isolate ethical standards to the software profession.
Also, re "you are saying", there's an HN guideline that asks you not to argue this way: "Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize." That's because arguing this way consistently leads to more boring comments, and it's easy enough not to do if you remember the rule.
Summarizing arguments is necessary when people obfuscate the true argument they are making. Dog whistles are a great example of this. If you can't all an argument out for what it is, you can't refute it at all.
I very deliberately expressed no opinion in that regard.
Not expressing an opinion within a moral argument is political only with regards for the motive of inaction. Taken to a greater extreme people are not necessarily expressing politics by not agreeing with your opinion.
Profits should indeed come before everything else.
The previous sentence isn't a statement of politics, it's a statement of fact, and the only thing that can make it false is post-scarcity.
Recognizing irony is key to transcending militarism
Military robots like drones are ironic because they are created essentially to force humans to work like robots in an industrialized social order. Why not just create industrial robots to do the work instead?
Nuclear weapons are ironic because they are about using space age systems to fight over oil and land. Why not just use advanced materials as found in nuclear missiles to make renewable energy sources (like windmills or solar panels) to replace oil, or why not use rocketry to move into space by building space habitats for more land?
Biological weapons like genetically-engineered plagues are ironic because they are about using advanced life-altering biotechnology to fight over which old-fashioned humans get to occupy the planet. Why not just use advanced biotech to let people pick their skin color, or to create living arkologies and agricultural abundance for everyone everywhere?
These militaristic socio-economic ironies would be hilarious if they were not so deadly serious. ...
Likewise, even United States three-letter agencies like the NSA and the CIA, as well as their foreign counterparts, are becoming ironic institutions in many ways. Despite probably having more computing power per square foot than any other place in the world, they seem not to have thought much about the implications of all that computer power and organized information to transform the world into a place of abundance for all. Cheap computing makes possible just about cheap everything else, as does the ability to make better designs through shared computing. ...
There is a fundamental mismatch between 21st century reality and 20th century security thinking. Those "security" agencies are using those tools of abundance, cooperation, and sharing mainly from a mindset of scarcity, competition, and secrecy. Given the power of 21st century technology as an amplifier (including as weapons of mass destruction), a scarcity-based approach to using such technology ultimately is just making us all insecure. Such powerful technologies of abundance, designed, organized, and used from a mindset of scarcity could well ironically doom us all whether through military robots, nukes, plagues, propaganda, or whatever else... Or alternatively, as Bucky Fuller and others have suggested, we could use such technologies to build a world that is abundant and secure for all.
So, while in the past, we had "nothing to fear but fear itself", the thing to fear these days is ironically ... irony. :-) ...
The big problem is that all these new war machines and the surrounding infrastructure are created with the tools of abundance. The irony is that these tools of abundance are being wielded by people still obsessed with fighting over scarcity. So, the scarcity-based political mindset driving the military uses the technologies of abundance to create artificial scarcity. That is a tremendously deep irony that remains so far unappreciated by the mainstream.
We the people need to redefine security in a sustainable and resilient way. Much current US military doctrine is based around unilateral security ("I'm safe because you are nervous") and extrinsic security ("I'm safe despite long supply lines because I have a bunch of soldiers to defend them"), which both lead to expensive arms races. We need as a society to move to other paradigms like Morton Deutsch's mutual security ("We're all looking out for each other's safety") and Amory Lovin's intrinsic security ("Our redundant decentralized local systems can take a lot of pounding whether from storm, earthquake, or bombs and would still would keep working"). [See for example the book "Brittle Power"] ...
Still, we must accept that there is nothing wrong with wanting some security. The issue is how we go about it in a non-ironic way that works for everyone. ...
All this hemming and hawing because people want to be polite and keep their jobs is silly, just be honest with yourself about your worldview.