Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Are we being de-humanized?

Take a moment and have a good long look at our world today - specifically our scientific world. I've found myself doing that quite frequently as of late. We appear to be on the verge of a new technological revolution that is the modern day equivalent of the personal computer revolution of prior decades. Almost suddenly, artificial intelligence has sprung upon us in a great wave of media hype. Self-driving cars, robots (yes even sex robots), robotic weapons of war are all on the verge of joining such miracles of modern know how as the drones that now dot the earth doing the nasty business of killing people from a video terminal. Brave new world indeed.

These technologies all have intended consequences, but they also have many unintended consequences - at least to the normal mind. Take for instance cellular phones. Two decades ago the mobile phone, as it was known, was strictly a tool for well off business people to remain in contact while literally mobile. It's use then exploded when much cheaper versions were marketed to the public. They became popular, but it wasn't until those cellular phones became mini-computers that owning one became a must. Now every child, and every adult has one. Even the poorest populations,  the least able to afford such luxuries (like India for example) find a way to get them and become "connected". All these years later humans have gone from being "erectus" to becoming "hunched". Hunched meaning that whether walking, sitting, or even communicating people have their heads and necks bent down toward the source of their interest - the "smart" phone screen.

There is an ominous warning for all of us from the cellular revolution - we are changing. Not the sort of change that elevates the human spirit, but rather the sort of change that isolates humans one from another. That's perhaps the best way to characterize the effects of our current technological dependency - "human isolation". Take that a step further. Consider what the technological community has in store for us. Self-driving cars for instance. Why do we need self driving cars? We have all the necessary skills to drive our own cars - at least most of us. Perhaps the reasoning is us humans will have more time then to focus our attention on other tasks - like starring endlessly into our smart phones...

The real kicker though has to be the personal robotic evolution. You may have noticed that the biggest media splash on robotics has been reserved for sex robots. Last I checked there were roughly the same number of each sex in most populations, so why the need for robots to do the job? Would it free us from having to have a relationship with our significant other so that we could maintain a normal sexual relationship? Perhaps it will free us from having a relationship with another human at all. A robot for cleaning and housework. A sex robot for that need. And of course cyber space will satisfy the need to communicate and socialize. However, is it really sex to have a one way gratification with a piece of machinery? Is it really independent living when a robot feeds you and cleans up after you? Is it really freedom to travel in a vehicle that drives without you?

Some people will say yes. The more technology the more freedom. The one question these people normally have a hard time answering is: The freedom to do what? Also, freedom at what cost? We don't have to travel to see the world anymore - simply watch tv, or if that's too old fashion, get an app and watch other people do it. There's also things like Google Earth. We don't have to count money anymore, simply press a button on your smart phone and it can count and send it for you. With "artificial intelligence" you won't have to think anymore, so more time to think doesn't seem to be in the equation.

It would seem that technology, present and in the near future, really just has one definite effect on us all: we are becoming much less human. We are in fact becoming more like the machines that are sold to us as making our lives that much easier. That much less stressful. Strange then that modern life is wholly characterized by massive stress throughout the world, and whole masses of people who "just can't find the time" or are "too busy". That's an odd by product of a technological revolution meant to make our lives better isn't it? The rat race, the road rage, the violent crime, the break down of the family and marriages all signal something quite different.

The real and true effect of all this technology, soon to be compounded with much more dangerous evolutions, is the isolation of the individual person from those around him/her. That isolation takes us back to a time before humans gathered into communities from their individual caves. It takes us back to a time when we could not communicate with each other, except perhaps with grunts and groans. It turns us away from human values like compassion, empathy, love, understanding, and the like. In its place it leaves us with rationalization, efficiency, etc. We have become emotionless observers of others framing our existence as a species into the cold calculations of technological dependence. We cannot think for ourselves. We cannot act for ourselves. Unless we have a machine to assist us with it. After all, we now live in a world where we are seriously discussing the "ethical ramifications" of having sex with a machine. Need I say more.

Just as any species can eventually become extinct, mankind is no different. Perhaps it is even becoming arguable that mankind is already extinct, and a "machine-kind" has replaced him in the name of "progress". Perhaps we are now incapable of independent thought, or emotion unless we are prompted  to it by some artificial means - and by those that control those means. In that way it seems we have in a sense become the "androids" of science fiction lore. Half human. Half machine. Unable to feel real emotion, or express it, and simply created for efficiency. If we aren't there yet, then we better be very aware of the dangers these new "artificial intelligence miracles" hold for us. We can't afford, as a world, to become any less human than we already are. We can't afford to inherit the earth, but lose our souls. Our souls are what makes us different than any other species. Without that soul we can easily face the same extinction that many species before us have.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Omar Khadr's Settlement

The case of Omar Khadr has created a lot of upset in certain circles in Canada. As a teenager, Khadr was spirited off to Afghanistan, by his father, to take up the fight against the US military in that country. Clearly brain washed, Khadr was a 15 year old left by his father to fight a grown man's war. During a fire fight with American troops he stands accused (and convicted in the US) of throwing a grenade that killed a US combat medic. He was captured barely alive and, after having sustained severe wounds, including the loss of an eye, was spirited off to an the Bagram Air base. Here he was treated for his wounds, extensively interrogated, and then extradited to the infamous Gitmo prison in Cuba. That's the gist of the story that most Canadians associate with him.

That back story is not the reason Khadr just received $10.5 million dollars from the Canadian government, along with an official apology. It has absolutely nothing to do with it at all. The reason Khadr was compensated so lavishly in an arbitration settlement by the Canadian government was not to "reward a terrorist", as some politicians and self-interested groups are putting it. Far from it. The reason he received what he got was a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada that the Canadian government had violated his Charter rights by using agents of CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Agency) to interrogate him in Cuba, who then passed that information to their US counterparts, which resulted in him remaining in a situation that not only violated the Geneva Convention, but also the Charter. The reason it violated the Charter was the participation of the Canadian government, against its own citizen, in a process that involved torture and suspension of any and all human rights.

This is from the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2010:


 "Canada actively participated in a process contrary to its international obligations and
contributed to K's ongoing detention as to deprive him of his right to liberty and security of the
person, guaranteed by section 7 of the Charter, not in accordance with the principles of     fundamental justice.... The Charter applies to the participation of the Canadian officials in a regime later found to be in violation of fundamental rights protected by international law....There is a sufficient connection between the government's participation in the illegal process and the deprivation of K's liberties and security of the person.

The interrogation of a youth without access to counsel, to elicit statements about serious criminal charges while knowing that the youth had been subjected to sleep deprivation and while knowing that the fruits of the interrogation would be shared with the prosecutors, offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth."

 I found it insightful, given the Supreme Court of Canada's finding in favour of Khadr, to view Khadr's submissions to the Court, which included a very disturbing excerpt from an interview conducted with him by CSIS agents. I place this in here to give the story some balance, and because it sheds a light on why the Supreme Court made the decision it did.

CSIS:  You look tired. Okay, so I brought you a burger. It’s very hot though. What’s
 happening?
OMAR:  [indiscernible]
CSIS:  Pardon me?
OMAR:  … something that’s very important, but I’m afraid to say it.
CSIS:  Okay, take your time and could you do me a favour today while we’re talking? Just
 make sure you talk nice and loud, so I can keep that air conditioning on so we’re cool.
OMAR:  There’s something that I’m scared to say.
DFAIT:  You don’t have to be scared of anything from us.
CSIS:  What are you scared to say?
OMAR:  Promise me you’re going to protect me.
CSIS:   Why don’t you just tell us what it is you have to say?
OMAR:  Promise me you are going to protect me from the Americans.
CSIS:  From the Americans?
OMAR:  Yes.
CSIS:  Okay, what’s going on with the Americans?
OMAR:  Promise me that you are going to protect me if I tell you.
CSIS:  Well we can’t protect you if we don’t know what it is that you have to say directly.
OMAR:  Promise me you’re going to protect me if I tell you.
CSIS:  Well, the only thing I’ll promise is that I’ll listen to you, and I’ll talk to the
 Americans for you here.
OMAR:  And after you go?
CSIS:  Pardon me?
OMAR:  And after you go?
CSIS:  And after I go, then I’ll listen to what you know, then I’ll come back and talk to you
 again. Make sure everything’s alright. Tell me what’s changed from yesterday.
OMAR:   I’m scared to tell you.
CSIS:   Well, I’ll tell you, there’s not much we can do, unless I know what you’re talking
 about.
OMAR:  Everything that I said to the Americans was not right, I just said that because they
 tortured me very badly in Bagram. So I had to say what I said.

The conversation shows, quite clearly, a terrified youth. It is important to remember that.

Now the Conservative Party, and some veterans among others, have spoken out publicly against any financial settlement with Khadr - this group also includes former Prime Minister Harper. Ironically, the Supreme Court found that it was the deliberate actions of the Harper government that led directly, and profoundly to the violation of Khadr's Charter rights. It was the political decision of the then Prime Minister to align himself completely and without hesitation to the American invasion of Afghanistan and other US military foreign interventions. The attitude that prevailed was that when it came to "terrorism" there were no boundaries restraining the western powers and how they responded. The Khadr story is simply a footnote of that policy. Essentially, the Harper government's policy was the end justified the means. That was the US policy as well, which resulted in torture being used against prisoners.

Bottom line is this, the ends do not justify the means. The Charter of Rights enshrines that very view. Our governments in Canada, federal and provincial, have their hands tied by the Charter so as not to violate the freedoms and rights we as Canadians take for granted. Those rights and freedoms are so much a part of who we are as a people that any violation of them is really a violation of us - or that is how it should be treated. Unfortunately, during the ongoing wars in the Middle East, Canadians have become numb in many cases, and fail to respect that people from the areas of war are just that - people. A really good example of this was the recent "celebration" of a Canadian soldier's sniper shot that killed an insurgent in Afghanistan. I was left with the very disturbing impression that Canadians viewed this "achievement" in the same way one might view the killing of an animal in a hunt. It is a reoccurring theme that has somehow permeated our core beliefs since the start of all these Middle Eastern wars - that people from this area are somehow "inhuman" and not viewed with the same humanness as say the soccer mom down the street. The Harper government's treatment fit that billing, and the Supreme Court of Canada saw it in that light.

As Canadians we've been here before. It wasn't that long ago that all people of Japanese ancestry were herded into concentration camps for the duration of the Second world War - in Canada. It wasn't that long ago that Aboriginal people were herded into residential schools - in Canada. We are not as Lilly white and pure as we like to see ourselves. We have a history of sacrificing other peoples rights to suit our own agendas - as ugly and disturbing as that is to admit. Omar Khadr is just the latest case of the ends justify the means. The latest victim. Luckily for Khadr we now have the Charter, which we did not back in the aforementioned cases, and he had recourse. He used that recourse. The Supreme Court of Canada agreed with him, and wholly condemned the federal government's actions.

Mr. Harper, and the rest of the people who believe the end justifies the means, and justice is allocated based on the colour of your skin, have been served a message by the highest court - the days of the ends justify the means are over. Nothing can be more serious for a citizen, other than death, than to have their dignity stripped from them by a government that violates the very code meant to protect them from such actions. It is the social contact of all humans across the planet - we agree to be governed by you within these limits. It's often referred to as a constitution. The federal government violated Khadr's and it paid the price for it. Not enough Canadians stood up against their government to stop it from happening, and so we will all pay that bill. No matter who you think you are, or what you think of another, you are only ever their equal, and the Charter ensures it stays that way. Thank God.