The Slippery Slope to Autonomous Killing Machines

Credit: United Nations

By Maaike Beenes
UTRECHT, The Netherlands, Nov 11 2019 – Would you trust an algorithm with your life? If that thought makes you uncomfortable, then you should be concerned about the artificial intelligence (AI) arms race that is secretly taking off, fueled by the arms industry.

Weapon systems that can select and attack targets autonomously, without real human control, are moving from science fiction to reality.

Take for example the Warmate 2. This Polish-made missile loiters over an area, controlled remotely by an operator, but can go into fully autonomous mode once a target has been identified.

Or the Dual-Mode Brimstone, a guided missile that can be assigned a target area after which it can find targets matching a predefined target type.

Right now these weapons are under human control, but the technology is designed to keep humans out of the picture. We are already well on our way down a very slippery slope.

For our new report* that we publish this week, we surveyed 50 weapons producers about their work on increasingly autonomous systems. The results show that although existing systems are still partly controlled, often remotely, by human operators, the industry is rapidly moving towards more and more autonomous systems.

In addition to asking the 50 companies to participate in the survey with questions about their policy and activities, the report analysed publicly available sources about the systems they are developing and military contracts they have already won.

Maaike Beenes

We found only four companies that we could classify as showing ‘best practice’ because they have in place a policy or statement to not develop lethal autonomous weapons. 30 companies, however, are of ‘high concern’.

These companies are all working on technologies most relevant to lethal autonomous weapons while not having clear policies on how they ensure meaningful human control over such weapons.

The group of high concern companies includes three of the world’s largest arms producers: Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon (all US), as well as AVIC and CASC (China), IAI, Elbit and Rafael (Israel), Rostec (Russia) and STM (Turkey).

Turkey’s state-owned weapons producer STM, for example, has developed the Kargu system. The Kargu is a kamikaze drone that flies to an area based on preselected coordinates and can then select targets based on facial recognition.

Some reports suggest the Kargu will soon be deployed on the Turkish-Syrian theater. This loitering munition may very soon cross the threshold to a weapon system without meaningful human control.

The results of this research are deeply concerning. Lethal autonomous weapon systems, which select and attack targets without meaningful human control, raise a host of legal, security and ethical concerns.

Crucially, removing the human from the ultimate kill-decision means delegating the decision to end a human being’s life to an algorithm-operated machine. This is fundamentally opposed to the right to life and human dignity.

An unarmed drone deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission. Credit: United Nations

But there are not just ethical concerns. Lethal autonomous weapons systems would be able to operate at speeds incomprehensible to humans.

Their high levels of autonomy would also make it very difficult to predict how they will react to unanticipated events, as we have already seen with accidents with self-driving cars. Any such unintended actions would significantly raise the risk of conflict escalation.

Lethal autonomous weapons are therefore not only unethical, but also pose a serious risk to international peace and security. It is also highly unlikely they would be able to comply with the key principles of International Humanitarian Law (IHL).

IHL requires distinguishing between civilians and combatants and to assess for each attack whether the civilian harm that would be caused by an attack is proportional to the expected military advantage. These are all highly context-dependent considerations, and that is exactly what algorithms are really bad at.

These concerns have sparked intense debates among states, which have discussed autonomous weapons at the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) since 2013.

These discussions have been productive in the sense that it has become clear the large majority of states want to ensure meaningful human control over the use of force.

Currently 30 states have already called for a preventive treaty that prohibits lethal autonomous weapons and ensures such human control. However, the debate is being stalled by a handful of countries that are enabling a global AI-arms race.

It is urgent for states to take action now that the development of lethal autonomous weapons can still be prevented rather than cured. Adopting new international law is the most effective way to do that.

It is clear that most states are ready to take their responsibility but as they meet this week in Geneva for the annual Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the CCW, it will become clear whether they are capable of making sufficient progress to prevent the world from a disastrous revolution in warfare.

The link to the report: https://www.paxforpeace.nl/slippery-slope

Investment to Make Africa a World leader in Renewables

Kenya’s Lake Turkana Wind Power project opened in July is generates 300 MW of wind power. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Nalisha Adams
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Nov 11 2019 – Africa, where close to half of its 1.2 billion people have access to electricity, is set to become a world leader in renewable energy. As global business and development leaders met in Johannesburg, South Africa, to attend the Africa Investment Forum (AIF), held Nov. 11 to 13, one of the key focuses of the deals being discussed was around sustainable, renewable energy.

Organised by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and its various partners, the forum is expected to see $67 billion in deals closed over the next few days.

Leaders are doing all they can to encourage investment

In attendance where heads of state from South Africa, Ghana, Rwanda and Mozambique. At an invitation-only discussion among the leaders, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame said there was a lot of progress in Africa as a whole.

“I have always thought it was Africa’s time. We African’s have let ourselves down, we are now realising it has always been our time. And we are now seize every opportunity and be where we should be by now,” Kagame said.

  • Kagame was the driver of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) during his time as chair of the African Union in 2018. The agreement had not been in existence during the first AIF last year.
  • Established in March 2019, the AfCFTA has now been signed by 54 of the 55 African member states.

Alain Ebobisse, CEO of Africa 50, the Pan-African infrastructure investment platform capitalised by the AfDB, said that there was a consensus from African leaders that they needed to do whatever they could to attract more private investment. He said that the AIF attendance showed that there was a changing narrative for investment on the continent.

  • Earlier figures had been revealed by the South African premier of Gauteng Province, David Makhura, that over 2,000 delegates were in attendance from 109 countries. Of this, only 40 percent where from Africa with the majority of investors attending from Asia, Europe and the Americas.
  • Gauteng is South Africa’s wealthiest province and includes the financial centres of Johannesburg and Sandton, as well as the seat of government in Pretoria. 

Renewable energy on a positive trajectory   

Ebobisse said that a lot was already happening on the continent and while the media focused on the challenges there were huge success stories too — like the 1.5 GW Benban Solar Park in Egypt, which is the world’s largest solar photovoltaic plant.

“I’m sure that people are not talking enough about this major achievement which is the Benban Solar Programmer, 1.5 GW of solar that was invested mostly by the private sector in a record time,” he said.

  • Africa 50 invested in 400 MW in that project and completed it from design to commercial operations in two and a half years.

Ebobisse went on to highlight Kenya’s opening this July of the Lake Turkana Wind Power project, which at a generation capacity of 300 MW makes it the largest wind power project on the continent.

“It was funded by the private sector,” Ebobisse told the media. He also looked towards Senegal which was implementing many independent power producers or IPPs in the solar sector.

“So there is a lot that is happening. We need to also widely understand the challenges and understand what is happening on the ground. And people are actually making good money in this investment. And there is nothing wrong about that. Let’s celebrate those successes,” he said.

African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina said today the bank had doubled its investment in climate finance from $12 billion to $25 billion by 2020. Credit: Nalisha Adams/IPS

Making Africa a world leader in renewables

A few weeks ago, the Governors of the AfDB met in Cote d’Ivoire’s capital Abidjan, approving a historic $115 billion increase to the bank’s authorised capital base to $208 billion. “This is the highest capital increase in the history of the bank since its establishment in 1964,” AfDB president Akinwumi Adesina said today.

During the October announcement Adesina had said that a significant portion of funding would be invested in climate change.

Today, in response to a question from IPS, Adesina further explained that the bank had doubled its investment in climate finance from $12 billion to $25 billion by 2020.

“Almost 50 percent of our finance will be going to climate adaptation as opposed to climate mitigation. So we are the first multilateral development bank to actually reach that balance in terms of adaptation and mitigation,” he said.

  • Climate mitigation is the actions taken to reduce or curb greenhouse gases, thereby addressing the causes of climate change to prevent future warming. However, climate adaptation addresses how to live with the impacts of climate change.

“I believe that coal is the past. I believe that renewable energy is the future and we as a bank are investing in not in the past, but in the future in making sure that we are investing in solar energy, in hydro energy, in wind, all types of renewable energy that Africa needs,” Adesina said.

“We want Africa to lead in renewable energy.”

He said one of the projects was the AfDB’s Green Baseload Facility, which according to the bank, aims “to accelerate the transition towards more sustainable baseload power generation options and prevent countries from locking themselves into environmentally damaging and potentially economically costly technologies”.

“It’s a $500-million facility that we have set up to support countries that want to shift out of fuel-based energy into renewable energy and providing access to finance at a cheaper rate to be able to make that transition,” Adesina said.

  • The bank’s biggest investment is the Desert to Power project, which was announced in December at the United Nations’ Climate Conference in Katowice, Poland.
  • The initiative plans to supply 10 GW of solar energy by 2025 to 250 million people across 11 Sahelian countries. 

“That would make it the largest solar zone in the world,” Adesina stated. The bank will work in partnership with various investors to also establish plants on the continent that will manufacture the solar panels for the project.

Africa’s climate crisis

The continent is facing climate change impact with rising temperatures and reduced rainfall.

The Sahel, which lies between The Sahara and the Sudanian Savanna, offers a blaze of sunlight with little rain as it is the region where temperatures are rising faster than anywhere else on Earth, according to the Great Green Wall initiative, a project that aims to reverse desertification and land degradation in the area.   

Last month, IPS reported that as The Sahara desert continues to expand, it tears apart families, forces migration from rural areas to cities and has contributed to conflict for precious resources of water, land and food.  

In July, IPS reported that the parts of Kenya had already warmed to above 1.5˚C — a figure deemed acceptable by global leaders during the 2015 Paris Agreement. But at such high temperatures a study found that over the last four decades livestock some Kenyan counties had decline by almost a quarter because of the temperature increase over time.

  • During the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris in 2015, all countries committed under the Paris Agreement to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”.
  • But last year the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report warning that the world would face the risk of extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty at a temperature rise of 1.5°C.

Siby Diabira, regional head for Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean for PROPARCO, a subsidiary of Agence Française de Développement (AFD) focused on private sector development, told IPS that last year the group did $1.76 billion in investment deals, half of which was in Africa. Credit: Nalisha Adams/IPS

However, the forum showed that there remain a number of investors looking to provide funding for renewables and other development project on the continent. 

Siby Diabira, regional head for Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean for PROPARCO, a subsidiary of Agence Française de Développement (AFD) focused on private sector development, told IPS that last year the group did $1.76 billion in investment deals, half of which was in Africa. The AIF was still in its early stages to make a pronouncement on the success of the deals, Diabira said, but “so far so good”.

Diabira said the French development agencies aimed to be 100 percent compliant with the Paris Agreement and hence were investing heavily in renewable energy.

  • She explained that PROPARCO was involved in “all types of renewable energy from hydro to solar to wind”, adding that there was a need for a mix of both traditional and renewable energy generation.

“I have been attending some of the boardroom [discussions]. It is a quite interesting gathering to have for the second year and to have so many different types of investors and projects that are raising funds for these types of events,” she said.

“We have been present in financing the first few rounds of renewable energy projects in South Africa and our idea is also as a [Development Financial Institution] DFI to be able to contribute to create this market for the commercial banks to come with us on those types of projects,” Diabira said.

Admassu Tadesse, President of the Trade and Development Bank, also pointed out that partnership agreements among the various banks and partners had strengthen their position in deals.

“If you have smart partnerships you can scale up collectively. With the African Development Bank we have signed a risk participation agreement to the tune of $300 million, which will allow us to move speedily into fields and have partners coming into deals alongside us.”

He said they expected to soon sign a deal with the European Investment Bank (EIB) that will again strengthen their position.

EIB vice president Ambroise Fayolle said they were attending this year with great intentions to develop transactions. He said it came on the back of their 2018 record year of investments in the continent, which amounted to some $3.6 billion — more than 50 percent of which was in the private sector. The bank signed 3 partnerships already, he said, none of which would have been possible without the AIF.

And as Adesina stated in a video message at the start of the forum, “Let the deals begin”.

PSAV® ACQUIRES eclipse

Schiller Park, Ill., Nov. 11, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — PSAV, a global leader in event experiences, is pleased to announce the acquisition of eclipse, a leading audiovisual and live event production and venue company in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). eclipse is well known in the GCC as a leader in project management, equipment rental, and technical services. The transaction allows PSAV to continue building upon its purpose of Connecting and Inspiring People by expanding the breadth of its capabilities throughout the GCC. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

eclipse was founded in 2003 by Mark Brown, a renowned leader in the events industry. He worked with everyone from the British Royal family to celebrities like Prince and Lady Gaga. He also worked on events as large as the MTV Music Awards, the opening of the Palm, and FIFA World Congress.

The company, now a wholly–owned subsidiary of PSAV, will continue to operate under the well–known and highly respected eclipse brand name. eclipse CEO Simon Ransom and his senior team will remain in place and continue to execute on their growth plans, now in partnership with PSAV. Ransom will assume leadership of PSAV UAE operations, and work with Nik Rudge, PSAV's Managing Director, International, and his team.

"eclipse is an exciting addition to the PSAV group of companies due to its extensive in–house venues and event production expertise, and strong alignment to our purpose and mission," said Nik Rudge, Managing Director, International for PSAV. "I am delighted about what this means for PSAV, and more importantly our customers, as we continue to focus on more ways to create amazing event experiences in locations throughout the GCC."

“We are certainly familiar with PSAV and its long–standing history as a leader in the event experience industry across the globe," said Ransom. "The entire eclipse family is eager to be joining forces with PSAV and establishing more impactful ways of serving our collective customer base."

About eclipse

eclipse is a key leader in the regional event industry, with a well–earned reputation for creativity, commitment to health and safety and client satisfaction. Specializing in project management, equipment rental and technical services, eclipse supports live events such as conferences, product launches, major concerts, exhibitions, special events, awards ceremonies and large public festivals. eclipse has more than 150 colleagues across the GCC and is headquartered in Dubai. For more information, visit www.eclipsegroup.ae.

About PSAV

The PSAV family of companies serves as a global leader in event experiences, providing creative, production, advanced technology and staging services to help meeting professionals deliver more dynamic and impactful experiences at their meetings, trade shows and events. The team consists of approximately 14,000 professionals across 2,100 on–site venue locations and more than 50 regional warehouses. The company operates in more than 20 countries across North America, Europe, the Middle East, Australia and Asia. It is the trusted partner and exclusive on–site provider of choice at leading venues worldwide. PSAV was recently named to the Forbes 2018 and 2019 America's Best Employer list. The company is headquartered in Schiller Park, Ill. www.psav.com.