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Specialized Content Curation | 23 – 1 March 2021| Week 14

Autonomous Weapons and Human Control

Autonomous Weapon Systems (AWS) are a latent threat to peace, although there is still no ban on this type of weapon, there are current initiatives to restrict their development in the context of the UN process related to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), to which States and other actors such as NGOs contribute.

Nevertheless, the Study at hand suggests that the concept of control remains central to debates concerning the legality of the use of certain weapons and the foreseeable effects of their use. Specific issues that have sparked debate include the distinction between automated and autonomous weapons, and whether and how a human should remain “in the loop” when algorithms and artificial intelligence allow systems to select and attack targets without direct human involvement.

Both the authors and the vast majority of academics and non-governmental organizations have suggested that weapons should remain under “meaningful human control,” a concept that has gained traction in both civil society and states but also remains undefined. The study contributes to the debate by assessing the legal requirement for gun control and advocating an alternative approach to the system-centric reasoning prevalent in today’s polarized debates.

Some states prefer to retain the ability to exploit emerging technologies in the interest of national security, while others are convinced that only a ban will prevent uncontrollable weapons. International law presents the notion of control in a multitude of legal contexts, as demonstrated throughout this paper.

The authors believe that discarding the notion of autonomy and accepting that control can be exercised in more ways than merely controlling a weapon in real-time, which can break down barriers in the sense that states can continue to explore and exploit the utility of emerging (weapons) technology, while legitimate concerns can be addressed.

The paper concludes by positing that states can conduct their process for deciding on the use of smart weapons in the same way they do for deciding on the use of other types of weapons – that is, a military commander consciously decides on the use of particular means and is therefore responsible for the effects of those means and for law enforcement – it could hardly be seen how this does not amount to human control. The authors argue that a reasonable commander will be reluctant, at least, to decide on the use of a system if the effects are not predictable.

Click here to read the full paper 1

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Laborers in the train station district of Munich:
From exploitation to human trafficking and forced labor?

Only in 2019, an important amendment was made to the Illegal Employment Act which stipulates the illegality of day laborers’ markets. Day laborers are known to offer their own labor to employers, who often deprive them of the agreed wage. This practice raises the question of whether these exploitative working conditions amount to human trafficking, forced labor, or labor exploitation. This question is explored by the authors of the paper in a case analysis based on conversations with day laborers and interviews with different actors in the Munich train station district.

Due to the increasing number of Covid-19 infections, the working and living conditions of undocumented slaughterhouse pickers and workers came into the public spotlight in the spring and summer of 2020. In this context, the illegalization of the day laborer market seems – as is often criticized – counterproductive, as employers remain in the shadows and only have to fear a few checks at the workplace, which stimulates labor exploitation.

There is very little knowledge about human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation and/or forced labor in Germany. The Federal Situation Report is anecdotal in nature, pointing out that the black figure is enormous, but there is a lack of well-founded methodological estimates. Apart from that, human trafficking is an intricate crime due to its preparatory character that is difficult to identify and prove. The rise of this type of crime is evident and labor exploitation is multifaceted. Therefore, the so-called “dark figure” of unreported or hidden cases is probably very high and the significance of police statistics on the phenomenon rather low.

The authors conclude with a justified concern regarding the prevention of labor exploitation and recommend investing in training for all law enforcement actors to raise awareness among both the public and foreign workers, as well as deepening cooperation with trade unions, civil society, and the private sector. The results also reveal the need for greater awareness of labor exploitation among day laborers themselves, as well as among all other actors, especially in the Munich Central Station district.

Click here to read the full paper 2

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Blockchain’s Imperial weaponization in the Pacific

The rise of blockchain as a technosolution in the development sector underscores the critical imbalances of data power under “computational capitalism” (Beller, 2018). This article analyzes the political economy of technosolutionist and blockchain discourses in peripheral countries, using blockchain projects in Pacific island nations as the object of study.

In the Pacific, this rise of blockchain has translated into supply chain management systems, financial innovation in humanitarian aid, and an Asian Development Bank project to manage Fiji’s indigenous lands exclusively on blockchain. The authors posit that the emergence of blockchain in the development sector foregrounds its role as a technology and discourse, at the fulcrum of U.S. soft power initiatives, Silicon Valley solutionism, and the promises of BigData.

The paper shows that in Pacific states the use of Blockchain technology (on private blockchains) far from the promises of decentralized and transparent data that empowers all participants, the production of data in Pacific Rim blockchain projects redounds to “imperialist hierarchies”. In this context, the power of data in private blockchains resembles Hayekian pricing mechanisms and digital property law that mediate all kinds of social practices beyond the realm of the state.

For the authors, the power of the blockchain is not the technology itself, which rarely satisfies its own terms of success, but its highly ideological notion of data governance. The imperialism of blockchain thus functions as a new cartography of data control that oscillates between the goals of the state, capital, and the solutionist prospective of developers.

While these projects do not demonstrate proof of concept, there is rhetorical success in opening up land to markets, control of supply chains, and forms of digital identity that shape blockchain control cartographies. Under the guise of humanitarian innovation, the use of private blockchains threatens a history of indigenous self-determination and, in attempting to realize the decentralization promised by the technology the projects rely on the mediating institutions of hegemonic power rather than the technological merit of the Blockchain.

Click here to read the full paper 3

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  1. Geiß, R. (2020). State Control Over the Use of Autonomous Weapon Systems: Risk Management and State Responsibility. Military Operations and the Notion of Control under International Law, 439–450.
  2. Haverkamp, R. (2021). Day labourers in Munich’s train station district – from exploitation to human trafficking and forced labour? Pracownicy jednodniowi w rejonie dworca kolejowego w Monachium – pomiędzy wykorzystaniem a handlem ludźmi i pracą przymusową? Archiwum Kryminologii, 22 pp.-22 pp.
  3. Jutel, O. (2021). Blockchain imperialism in the Pacific. Big Data & Society, 8(1), 205395172098524.