The use of cheap, miniature “everyman” drones needs to be banned by international treaties before such devices fall into the hands of private users including terrorists, the head of Google has said.
In an extended interview with the Guardian, Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google and an adviser to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, warned of the potential of new technology to “democratise the ability to fight war”, and said drones could soon be used to harass and spy on neighbours.
“You’re having a dispute with your neighbour,” he hypothesised. “How would you feel if your neighbour went over and bought a commercial observation drone that they can launch from their back yard. It just flies over your house all day. How would you feel about it?”
Schmidt set out the trajectory of robotic warfare and considered whether it would be confined solely to national governments. “It’s probable that robotics becomes a significant component of nation state warfare,” he said.
“I’m not going to pass judgment on whether armies should exist, but I would prefer to not spread and democratise the ability to fight war to every single human being.
“It’s got to be regulated. You just can’t imagine that British people would allow this sort of thing, and I can’t imagine American people would allow this sort of thing. It’s one thing for governments, who have some legitimacy in what they’re doing, but have other people doing it … It’s not going to happen.”
The US government’s use of military drones has proven increasingly controversial, with drone strikes on American citizens the subject of a recent 12-hour Senate filibuster by the Republican senator Rand Paul. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia have been responsible for at least 2,772 deaths.
Schmidt’s warnings on privacy in the robotic era notwithstanding, Google itself has been frequently criticised by privacy campaigners concerned about the company’s huge reach and the extensive data collection used to power its multibillion-dollar advertising sales.
Challenged on these issues, Schmidt said Google was “super-sensitive” on privacy and had voluntarily kiboshed projects it thought could lead to privacy breaches. “Google is not a bunch of engineers who throw stuff over the wall,” he said. “A classic example is that a team built a facial-recognition tool. It was just really good – state of the art at the time. We stopped that product for two reasons. One is that it turned out to be illegal in Europe and the second was that it was not a good product to offer in the US for the same reasons.”
Schmidt, who said he was “literally in the room” when the decision was made to kill the product, said it had been a judgment call taken on Google’s own initiative.
“Facial recognition, completely unmonitored, can be used for very bad things,” he said. “It can be used for stalking, for example. You know, it’s just we don’t want to be part of that as a company. There are cases where facial recognition can be used, but they need to be fairly carefully boxed.”
Schmidt also addressed the “transition fund”, valued at between €50m and €60m (£33m- £39m), set up by Google after negotiations with the French government. The fund will support technologies to help French publishing companies that are suffering during the transition to digital to monetise their content.
Schmidt avoided the question of whether a similar fund could be established in the UK. “I’m sure we can talk about it,” he said. “The reason I like this model is it’s … I don’t like the idea of randomly writing cheques to publishers in the old model, and I think it’s a very good idea for Google to assist in the transformation of their business model from old to new.”
CNN’s Jim Acosta walks through all the times Trump has ‘thrown gasoline’ on racial tension
On CNN Friday, following President Donald Trump's abrupt exit from a press conference following a racially charged tweet, chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta broke down President Donald Trump's history of stoking racial tensions during moments of crisis.
"He is trying to clean up this tweet that he posted last night," said Acosta. "First, just what the president said a few moments ago. He said the looters in Minneapolis should not be able to drown out the voice of so many peaceful protesters. That, obviously, is a very mild version of what he was trying to say or he claims he was trying to say last night when he tweeted, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." That obviously is an expression steeped in all kinds of ugliness. The Miami Police chief back in 1967, when there was unrest in that city, used that expression. George Wallace, the segregationist, used words like that in 1968."
Joe Biden takes on Trump’s rhetoric during racial justice crises: ‘The words of a president matter’
Former Vice President Joe Biden talked about the importance of a president's words and accountability during times of crisis during a Friday appearance on MSNBC.
Biden was interviewed by Craig Melvin, who noted the protests tearing apart cities and asked where he would start if elected president.
"I start by talking about what we must be, making no excuses, talking about our obligation to be decent," Biden answered. "Our obligation to take responsibility, our obligation to stand up when we see injustice."
"Look, the words of a president matter -- no matter how good or bad that president is," he explained. "A president can, by their words alone no matter who they are, make it rise or fall, take us to war, bring us to peace. The words of a president matter."
DeVos and Mnuchin sued for unlawful seizure of student loan borrowers’ tax refunds during pandemic
"Secretaries DeVos and Mnuchin have inflicted needless financial pain on student borrowers and their families."
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and the federal departments they run were hit with a class-action lawsuit Friday for illegal seizures of thousands of student borrowers' tax refunds during the coronavirus pandemic, which has left over 40 million Americans jobless and families across the country struggling to stay in their homes and keep food on the table.