Tero Karppi, Assistant Professor of Media Studies, SUNY Buffalo
I don’t know why “Killer Robots as cultural techniques,” a recent paper in the International Journal of Cultural Studies, got so much attention, other than that the University put out a press release and it was picked up by Phys.org, the Daily Mail, NewsMax and other outlets, generally with the spin put on it by the press release, that “it’s too late” to stop killer robots, according to “researchers.” I have now seen the paper, and I’m not impressed.
The authors engage in a series of trifling, superficial, pseudo-intellectual observations dressed up in babble and references to the works of other academics you’ve never heard of, plus Marx and Foucault. They affect the superior stance of observers uninvolved in political struggle and indifferent to its outcome, but very concerned that the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is making “epistemological assumptions or claims” about “distinctions between human and machine” that the enlightened authors can see right through:
The campaign’s distinction between human and machine constructs and utilizes historical imaginaries brought to us by the increase of representations of autonomous automation and the cultural techniques that precede these representations . In this way, the human–machine distinction becomes a step in a recursive process through the embeddedness of cultural imaginaries and representations that form the epistemological foundation of the campaign’s category distinction.
I might be old-fashioned, but I still believe distinguishing between humans and machines is useful and meaningful. And what I really care about is not epistemological correctness but stopping this crazy arms race before it leads to nuclear war.The authors have nothing to say about that, of course. They are just keen to criticize the Campaign and position themselves as more cutting-edge, knowing and hipsterish.