The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Friday Punctual Nerd Blogging/Blegging

August 10, 2012

Last week, I embedded with smart people thinking hard about ethics, armed conflict and emerging technologies. I learned that it’s an open questions whether governments can or should move toward fully autonomous systems; I learned philosophers, technicians and lawyers approach these questions so differently that it’s probably wrong to think of a expert network like CETMONS-AWTG as an epistemic community.

 I also learned that being a world-famous expert on emerging lethal technologies doesn’t guarantee that you will necessarily know what a Cylon is. [I didn’t exactly have a Dwight Schrute moment when this occurred, though thanks to my trusty laptop and Amazon digital, it was a simple matter to throw a film screening during the conference and geek out with a few new colleagues, who, after hearing my plug for Kiersey and Neumann’s new book Battlestar Galactica and International Relations were, I am convinced, appropriately indoctrinated into my thesis that “BSG matters.” This notwithstanding the fact that reactions to the miniseries by that group were mixed to say the least, the biggest issue being how confusing the plot was, about which I regret I have little to say by way of assurance.]

What was most intriguing, however, was how many of those at the conference who had never followed BSG had followed pop cultural developments in vampires and zombies fairly closely by contrast. (One participant, who shall go unnamed due to Chatham House rules, had even heard of Theory of International Politics and Zombies – let me add these were neither IR scholars nor political scientists.) Given that this was also a group that, on balance, leaned more toward Ronald Arkin’s techno-optimistic view on lethal robotics than toward the techno-pessimism associated with some in the NGO sector, I wonder if this is further evidence of my zombie-distraction thesis.*

And that concludes nerd blogging ala Carpenter this week. I sure hope Steve shows up with something funnier and more visually stimulating than this drek.

*That video is a satire of course. But I do find myself mildly curious whether consumers of robo-apocalyptic fiction are more or less likely to buy into bans or moratoriums on autonomous lethal weaponry than are those who typically consume other genres. If you know of a study on this, I bleg you to kindly leave a link in comments. If you don’t, hey there’s an interesting and diverting dissertation topic…

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Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.