Daily Archives: December 1, 2008

Chavez hopes to maintain dictatorship through 2021


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Sunday he was seeking a constitutional amendment to allow himself to seek re-election again, saying he hoped to lead the OPEC nation until 2021.

Hugo Chavez eyes presidency through to 2021

Telegraph | Nov 30, 2008

Mr Chavez said he was directing his ruling United Socialist party (PSUV) to seek a “constitutional amendment and reelection of the president of the republic” saying he was “ready (to govern) through 2021.”

“I give the PSUV and the Venezuelan people my authorisation to begin the debate and take the steps necessary to obtain that constitutional amendment and reelection of the president … and I am sure that we will get it now,” Mr Chavez said at the swearing-in of Caracas’ Libertador district’s mayor Jorge Rodriguez.

“I am ready, and if I am healthy, God willing, I will be with you until 2019, until 2021,” added the 54-year-old Chavez, seeking to propel the oil-rich but poverty-plagued country’s institutional socialism to over two decades long.

On Nov 24 – almost a year after losing a vote on extending his powers – Mr Chavez had said, “It’s the people’s right (to vote on the issue). We’ll see if the people use this right, and if all the country approves it or not if there is a referendum.”

In Dec 2007, a referendum that sought to declare Venezuela a socialist state and allow unlimited reelection did not prevail, and dealt Mr Chavez his first major defeat at the ballot box.

Just over a week ago Mr Chavez’s party scored a string of victories in key local polls, but in a blow to his socialist revolution the opposition won some major power centres.

The results shook up the political landscape of the South American nation, reducing the almost blanket authority of the fiercely anti-liberal Chavez and his party.

“The symbols won by the opposition are more than expected: they won the capital and states representing the economic and political heart of the country,” said Luis Vicente Leon from Datanalisis.

Some 45 per cent of the population will now be governed by policitians from the opposition, who won in states representing around 70 per cent of national economic activity.

But Mr Chavez said at the time that the opposition had suffered a “new, big defeat. They continue overestimating what happened as a victory. That’s crazy,” he argued.

If “we’re applying scientific analysis, the popular revolutionary victory continues growing.”

But Mr Chavez, a friend to communist Cuba and to fellow oil giants Iran and Russia, did lose some “mandate” authority in his quest to abolish term limits to try to win a third six-year term in 2012.

By Sunday, he was scrambling to regain lost ground, in a bid to make his revolution increasingly an institution.

Pentagon hires British scientist to help build robot soldiers that ‘won’t commit war crimes’


The American military is planning to build robot soldiers that will not be able to commit war crimes like their human comrades in arms.

Telegraph | Dec 1, 2008

By Tim Shipman in Washington

American military is planning to build robot soldiers that will not be able to commit war crimes

The Pentagon aims to develop ‘ethical’ robot soldiers, unlike the indiscriminate T-800 killers from the Terminator films

The US Army and Navy have both hired experts in the ethics of building machines to prevent the creation of an amoral Terminator-style killing machine that murders indiscriminately.

By 2010 the US will have invested $4 billion in a research programme into “autonomous systems”, the military jargon for robots, on the basis that they would not succumb to fear or the desire for vengeance that afflicts frontline soldiers.

A British robotics expert has been recruited by the US Navy to advise them on building robots that do not violate the Geneva Conventions.

Colin Allen, a scientific philosopher at Indiana University’s has just published a book summarising his views entitled Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right From Wrong.

He told The Daily Telegraph: “The question they want answered is whether we can build automated weapons that would conform to the laws of war. Can we use ethical theory to help design these machines?”

Pentagon chiefs are concerned by studies of combat stress in Iraq that show high proportions of frontline troops supporting torture and retribution against enemy combatants.

Ronald Arkin, a computer scientist at Georgia Tech university, who is working on software for the US Army has written a report which concludes robots, while not “perfectly ethical in the battlefield” can “perform more ethically than human soldiers.”

He says that robots “do not need to protect themselves” and “they can be designed without emotions that cloud their judgment or result in anger and frustration with ongoing battlefield events”.

Airborne drones are already used in Iraq and Afghanistan to launch air strikes against militant targets and robotic vehicles are used to disable roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices.

Last month the US Army took delivery of a new robot built by an American subsidiary of the British defence company QinetiQ, which can fire everything from bean bags and pepper spray to high-explosive grenades and a 7.62mm machine gun.

But this generation of robots are all remotely operated by humans. Researchers are now working on “soldier bots” which would be able to identify targets, weapons and distinguish between enemy forces like tanks or armed men and soft targets like ambulances or civilians.

Their software would be embedded with rules of engagement conforming with the Geneva Conventions to tell the robot when to open fire.

Dr Allen applauded the decision to tackle the ethical dilemmas at an early stage. “It’s time we started thinking about the issues of how to take ethical theory and build it into the software that will ensure robots act correctly rather than wait until it’s too late,” he said.

“We already have computers out there that are making decisions that affect people’s lives but they do it in an ethically blind way. Computers decide on credit card approvals without any human involvement and we’re seeing it in some situations regarding medical care for the elderly,” a reference to hospitals in the US that use computer programmes to help decide which patients should not be resuscitated if they fall unconscious.

Dr Allen said the US military wants fully autonomous robots because they currently use highly trained manpower to operate them. “The really expensive robots are under the most human control because they can’t afford to lose them,” he said.

“It takes six people to operate a Predator drone round the clock. I know the Air Force has developed software, which they claim is to train Predator operators. But if the computer can train the human it could also ultimately fly the drone itself.”

Some are concerned that it will be impossible to devise robots that avoid mistakes, conjuring up visions of machines killing indiscriminately when they malfunction, like the robot in the film Robocop.

Noel Sharkey, a computer scientist at Sheffield University, best known for his involvement with the cult television show Robot Wars, is the leading critic of the US plans.

He says: “It sends a cold shiver down my spine. I have worked in artificial intelligence for decades, and the idea of a robot making decisions about human termination is terrifying.”

Maryland city testing nightly police checkpoints into neighborhoods

Police begin nightly Newtowne checkpoints


Hometown Annapolis | Nov 15, 2008

The city Police Department has kicked off a monthlong, anti-crime initiative on Newtowne Drive, including nightly checkpoints to stop all motorists entering neighborhoods along the street.

The initiative, dubbed “Safe Zone,” began Nov. 5, and includes community events and police checkpoints, a tactic used in Baltimore, but that has proved controversial in Washington, D.C.

“We took the good points and imported what works best for Annapolis,” city Police Chief Michael A. Pristoop said during the City Council meeting Monday. “It’s going very smoothly.”

On Thursday, city Housing Authority Executive Director Eric Brown said “This is not just police standing on the corner stopping people. … When the police pull out, we hope the community will be more engaged.”

The Newtowne 20 complex, a city Housing Authority property, is located at the end of Newtowne Drive. There is also a neighborhood of subsidized housing along Newtowne Drive.

The checkpoints are set for six days a week and should run until the end of the month or as long as police officials see fit. Patrol units are set up at checkpoints down Newtowne Drive, closer to the residential areas.

Also during the meeting Monday, Alderman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4, whose ward includes Newtowne Drive, lauded the initiative. It was needed because the area has experienced an uptick in crime, she said.

“I feel like crime has been moving toward my ward as they’ve cleaned up other parts of the city,” Ms. Finlayson said last week. “We need to restore some security.”

The police department did not provide the number of calls received for service along Newtowne Drive, but a check of the online crime report listings used by the department shows that, within the past month there were nearly a dozen crimes reported, mostly regarding violent crimes in the neighborhoods along Newtowne Drive.

Chief Pristoop said that the goal of the checkpoints is not to arrest individuals, although police have made several drug and alcohol-related arrests.

Chief Pristoop has shifted many strategies since he was hired full-time this summer, including modernizing department technology and increasing police patrols and presence in troubled neighborhoods.

The idea for the “Safe Zone” comes from tactics that were implemented during Chief Pristoop’s tenure with the Baltimore City Police Department.

But civil liberties groups sued the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., after it set up police checkpoints in the Trinidad neighborhood this summer.

A federal judge ultimately upheld the checkpoints.

Several residents who were gathered Thursday at the bus stop near Skippers Lane appeared apathetic and unfazed by the checkpoints. They wished to remain anonymous, but said that the police are always in the neighborhood anyway.

The Annapolis “Safe Zone” initiative, in part, is made possible through a federal grant for the city’s Capital City Safe Streets Coalition formed earlier this year. Some of the overtime costs to have officers participate come out of the department’s general budget, Chief Pristoop said.

The initiative will probably be used in other troubled communities within the city, but the chief would not say when and where specifically.

This weekend – also as part of the “Safe Zone” initiative, but from its outreach component – there will be a job and health fair in the Newtowne Drive area.

On Nov. 8, police sponsored a youth day held along Newtowne Drive. There was food, music and activities for neighborhood children, Chief Pristoop said.

City officials said the police department made sure residents in the neighborhoods along Newtowne Drive were informed about the initiative and about the checkpoints.

Council and police officials said patrol units knocked on every door informing residents of their plans.

Carl Snowden, a former Ward 5 alderman, and current director for the state Attorney General’s Office for Civil Rights, said he approves of the way police are handling the initiative.

“It appears they’ve taken a holistic approach,” he said. “We’ve known from 20 years of research that just locking people up doesn’t work. These particular tactics can be effective if coupled with the outreach approach.”

Mr. Snowden said he plans to survey neighborhood residents to see if they’ve had any trouble with the checkpoints.

But that isn’t a concern, Ms. Finlayson said. “We did all the preparatory work. … I think (the residents) have felt powerless. They’ve realized they’ve got to do something.”