Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk and Google artificial intelligence developer Mustafa Suleyman head a list of 116 tech experts who implored the United Nations to preemptively ban lethal autonomous weapons — in layman's terms, killer robots — before it's too late.
"Once developed, lethal autonomous weapons will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend," the experts warned, in a letter reported Monday. "These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora's box is opened, it will be hard to close."
Central to the experts' concern is how killer robots could change the risk calculations and casualties of war. While autonomous weapons may make battlefields safer for soldiers who can be removed from the scene, the same is not true for civilians who have the misfortune to be nearby. A killer robot's ethics will only be as good as its programming, which could vary widely depending on the government or terrorist organization controlling it. Autonomous weapons also raise troubling and complicated questions of accountability and recourse in the event of mistakes.
The letter asks the U.N. to add killer robots to list of banned conventional weapons, which currently includes landmines, intentionally blinding lasers, and other technologies "deemed to be excessively injurious or to have indiscriminate effects." Bonnie Kristian
Either White House chief of staff John Kelly had a bad headache on Tuesday, or President Trump's debut address before the United Nations General Assembly was giving him one. While Trump was calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "Rocket Man," threatening to "totally destroy" North Korea, and informing world leaders that some countries, "in fact, are going to hell," Kelly sat beside first lady Melania Trump with his head in his hands and his eyes on the ground.
John Kelly apparently went through some sort of existential crisis during Trump's UN speech. pic.twitter.com/v0JUz21klN
— Kyle Feldscher (@Kyle_Feldscher) September 19, 2017
Another notable reaction was displayed by representatives from Zimbabwe, who looked equal parts amused, concerned, and sleepy. Becca Stanek
— Mike Giannoni (@mikegiannoni) September 19, 2017
Mexico was struck by a 7.1 earthquake with an epicenter about 70 miles south of Mexico City on Tuesday, just days after the nation was hit by its biggest earthquake in centuries, on Sept. 8, The Associated Press reports. Early photos show areas where buildings have collapsed and people milling in the streets, afraid to go back into their homes or offices in case of aftershocks.
— The Weather Channel (@weatherchannel) September 19, 2017
El edificio de Álvaro Obregón 286, en la Condesa, se colapsó. Hay persona heridas. Ya hay cuerpos de rescate en el sitio pic.twitter.com/VMHbZ1FObt
— BuzzFeed News México (@BuzzFeedNewsMex) September 19, 2017
Mexico City after earthquake. pic.twitter.com/qd3VeLslAf
— Jorge Guajardo (@jorge_guajardo) September 19, 2017
Mexico City shaking pretty strongly right now. Earthquake
— David Luhnow (@davidluhnow) September 19, 2017
"In the neighborhood of Roma Norte, an entire office building collapsed," The New York Times writes. "Rescue efforts at the offices were getting underway to save people trapped in the rubble. Several people suffered injuries and were quickly whisked away in ambulances. Others lay on the ground covered in dust."
Tuesday's earthquake coincidentally falls on the 32nd anniversary of a disastrous 1985 earthquake in Mexico City that left at least 5,000 people dead. That earthquake was an 8.0 on the Richter magnitude scale. The Sept. 8 earthquake, off the coast of Chiapas, Mexico, registered as an 8.1 and killed at least 98 people. Jeva Lange
Lindsey Graham insists his health-care bill is the only thing standing between America and socialism
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday painted a stark dichotomy between Americans' health-care prospects as he continued to rally support for his Graham-Cassidy bill. "Here's the choice for America: socialism or federalism," Graham said. He warned that his ObamaCare repeal bill is "the only process available to stop a march toward socialism," which is apparently his word for Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) single-payer health-care bill.
Graham explained that with his health-care bill he's "trying to take power and money in Washington and send it back closer to the patient." "ObamaCare is failing for a reason: It's a bad idea. State control of health care will work because the people in charge will be accountable to you, unlike ObamaCare where the person in charge could give a damn of what you think," Graham said.
While Graham maintained that he's "never felt better where we're at," CNBC's John Harwood noted that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) remained "notably non-committal" about whether the bill will come to the floor for a vote by Sept. 30 — Republicans' deadline for passing the bill with a simple majority vote. After a GOP lunch spent chatting about the Graham-Cassidy bill, McConnell did say that there's "lots of interest" in the caucus. Becca Stanek
America is floundering in its intense rivalry with Europe to grow the biggest pumpkin in the world, Smithsonian reports. While the orange fruit is a New World native, farmers in Belgium, Switzerland, and Britain are approaching the benchmark of growing a 3,000-pound pumpkin while America lags behind. "They're doing very well, and I tip my hat to them," said Rhode Island pumpkin grower Ron Wallace, who, in addition to being a very good sport, grew the first squash to ever break 1,500 pounds in 2006.
America used to reign in the pumpkin department specifically because the plants adore the ideal environment of New England. "Summer days are in the mid-80s, maximizing photosynthesis without desiccating the bloated fruit, and the semi-northerly locale means bonus sunlight hours throughout the growing season," Smithsonian writes. "By June the burgeoning giants are growing at an exponential rate, and by August, they're packing on one to two pounds per hour, while guzzling about 100 gallons of water every day."
Europe, though, has figured out how to remedy its less-than-ideal meteorological conditions:
Europe's subsequent rise has been defined by the controversy over indoor growing. The Old World's big players cluster in Northern Europe, where the weather is often harsher than New England's. However, high-tech greenhouses with heating and air-conditioning, irrigation systems, automatic fertilization, and other frills allow growers to mimic, and in the last few seasons, maybe even improve upon a New England-like climate. There are no ravenous white-tailed deer in greenhouses, and it can be a perfect June afternoon in Vermont every day of the year. [Smithsonian]
That's good news if you like pumpkins big enough to be watercrafts — but bad news if you're an amateur pumpkin grower toiling in America's Northeast. Read more about how farmers and plant scientists are racing to grow the biggest pumpkin at Smithsonian. Jeva Lange
A copy of an Adolf Hitler speech was found in the home of a man accused of killing two black men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last week in what authorities now suspect were racially motivated attacks, The Associated Press reports.
Donald Smart, 49, a dishwasher, and Bruce Cofield, 59, who was homeless, were at first thought to have been killed randomly two days apart. Police have since charged Kenneth Gleason, 23, who is white, with two counts of second-degree murder as well as for allegedly shooting into the home of a black family in an incident where no one was injured. Gleason's DNA was found on shell casings in his car that matched ammo used in the attacks, The Advocate reports.
If Gleason had not been arrested last week, "he could have potentially created a tear in the fabric that holds this community together," said Baton Rouge Interim Police Chief Jonny Dunnam on Tuesday.
District Attorney Hillar Moore said that if Gleason is convicted, his case "would qualify for the death penalty."
"It appears to be cold, calculated, planned [against] people who were unarmed and defenseless," Moore said. "We don't need to prove motive. There are a lot of things that are unanswered." Read more about the case at The Advocate. Jeva Lange
John Bolton, a United Nations ambassador under former President George W. Bush, deemed President Trump's debut address Tuesday before the U.N. General Assembly "the best of the Trump presidency." Bolton, known for his neoconservative views, heaped praise on Trump for vowing to "totally destroy" North Korea if it threatens the U.S or its allies and for calling out Iran as a "rogue state," points Bolton described as the "centerpiece of the speech." "I think it's safe to say, in the entire history of the United Nations, there has never been a more straightforward criticism of the behavior, the unacceptable behavior, of other member states," Bolton said on Fox News, where he's now a contributor.
Bolton was also pleased with Trump's blunt criticisms of the Iran deal, which he said made clear this administration will not put up with "half-measures and compromises." Bolton's personal favorite line, however, was Trump's remark that Venezuela is in crisis because "socialism has been faithfully implemented." "There are a lot of people in the U.N. who have never heard anything like that from an American president," Bolton said. "I think this was an outstanding speech, and I think it will serve the president very well."
Watch Bolton praise Trump's speech below. Becca Stanek
Moscow unveiled a 30-foot-tall bronze monument to the inventor of the AK-47 assault rifle on Tuesday in a ceremony that "contained no mention of the untold millions of people who have been killed or maimed by the weapon since its creation in 1947," The New York Times reports. Instead, the chairman of the Russian Military Historical Society, Vladimir Medinsky, praised Lt. General Mikhail Kalashnikov, citing the rifle designer as being "the embodiment of the best elements in a Russian man," Russia's Tass News Agency reports.
"[Kalashnikov's] extraordinary natural aptitude, simplicity, integrity, and organizational talent helped him create a whole range of weapons to protect the motherland, among which is, of course, the Kalashnikov assault rifle, a true Russian cultural brand," Medinsky said.
The statue, which is mounted on a 13-foot-tall pedestal, depicts a larger-than-life Kalashnikov holding an AK-47 "like a violin," in the words of the local media.
Muscovites weighed in on the statue to The Moscow Times, with Sveta Agayan, 26, asking, "What's not to like? The size is good. And people should know their heroes." Nadezhda Yermakova, 46, said she also liked the statue, telling The Moscow Times: "I would want my children to know what he's done for the motherland."
One lone protester demonstrated against the statue at the unveiling ceremony with a sign that read "a creator of weapons is a creator of death," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports. The use of AK-47s kill an estimated 250,000 people annually, The Guardian writes. Jeva Lange
A statue of Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the iconic AK-47, was unveiled in Moscow on September 19. pic.twitter.com/oo2QYauN0t
— RFE/RL (@RFERL) September 19, 2017