The time to act is now

Saturday, May 25, 2019

By Paul Heidebrecht

We missed talking with Branka Marijan from Project Ploughshares in my Engineering and Peace class last week, but you can see her thoughts on emerging technologies of warfare in this recent blog post on “New Technologies and Conflict Escalation”.

Men pose with robot for Campaign to Stop Killer Robots

There were lots of great civil society and industry voices featured on Nahlah Ayed’s documentary “Killer robots march into uncharted ethical territory” on CBC Radio One’s Ideas program last Friday. Not sure why they didn’t talk to Branka, but it was good to hear from Paul Hannon and Erin Hunt from Mines Action Canada in Ottawa, and Ryan Gariepy from Clearpath Robotics in Kitchener—Clearpath was the first corporate signatory to the international campaign to ban killer robots, long before Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking made it cool.

It was less heartening to hear about the eagerness of some to capitalize on this potential revolution in warfare—it is clear that what former U.S. President (and Army General) Dwight Eisenhower referred to as the “Military Industrial Complex” is quite adaptable! This complex also serves all kinds of other strategic political purposes apart from actual battles, as illustrated by Srdjan Vucetic’s commentary on the global impact of the United States’ F35 fighter jet program, a program that Canada is, at this moment, only peripherally involved in.

Helicopter flies over Waterloo's campus

Closer to home, we had a reminder of the eagerness of the Canadian military to deepen connections with talent in Waterloo’s renowned innovation ecosystem when a helicopter from the Canadian Special Forces Command circled our campus a few weeks ago to wow participants at Hack the North.

What I think has been the most interesting development in the relationship between the military and the tech sector in recent years is the rise of employee activism. As Sean Patrick noted in a recent piece republished by the Future of Good, given the impact of high-profile actions at companies like Google and Amazon, not to mention Microsoft and others, this is something organizations cannot afford to ignore.

Speaking of activism… the Canadian Pugwash Group and the Centre for International Policy Studies at the University of Ottawa have organized a timely one-day conference this Thursday, September 26 entitled “Speeding Towards the Abyss: Contemporary Arms Racing and Global Security.”

And students, staff, and faculty at UWaterloo have a big opportunity to take action this week by joining in a local climate strike. People are gathering on campus at the Arts Quad at 10:00 AM on Friday, September 27, before marching to Waterloo Town Square, where events get underway around noon. What does this have to do with peace? In the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, "Today peace faces a new danger: the climate emergency, which threatens our security, our livelihoods and our lives. That is why it is the focus of this year’s International Day of Peace. And it’s why I am convening a Climate Action Summit."

Climat Strike Waterloo Region poster

Finally, another local event to take note of is the 3rd Waterloo Symposium on Technology and Society, which will be held at the CIGI auditorium in Uptown Waterloo on Wednesday, October 2 at 7:00 PM. Organized by the Centre for Security Governance, keynote speaker Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, an economist and former data scientist at Google, will be exploring “What the Internet and Big Data Reveal About Who We Are.”