The new demon of war

    CONFLICT: The advent of artificial intelligence and digitalisation of weapons has shifted traditional battlefields into remote operations in the name of wartime «progress».

    Carefully edited and with a truly amazing ability to shoot private conversations like a fly on the wall, Georg Götmark and David Herdies accompany a small team of leading Swedish developers of computational intelligence for military applications.

    As one of our protagonists confesses, state secrecy regarding intelligent weapons makes it very difficult to know what the current state of AI development in the arms race is.

    As the Bellum – The Daemon of War reminds us, the 9/11 attack brought forth a radical change in what is permissible in war. And that does not imply that the US had an exemplary record of good practices in terms of military intervention before that, far from it. But the invasion of Afghanistan under the excuse of legitimate defence violated the principle of proportionality and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, also the presumption of innocence. And that’s no small feat.

    Bellum - The Daemon of War, a film by David Herdies, Georg Götmark
    Bellum – The Daemon of War, a film by David Herdies, Georg Götmark

    The code of Hammurabi

    Before the advent of the Hammurabi code, humanity was plagued by feuds between relatives and clans, commercial disputes, and outbursts of violent passion or eternal wars of intergenerational revenge. The appearance of the code points to a first attempt to tame these human drives.

    As brutal as it may sound, Hammurabi’s «eye for an eye» was a sea change and layed down some important precepts. Perhaps the most important being the appropriation of revenge by government structure, giving birth to retributive justice. What Hammurabi says, is that revenge is understandable, but only permitted within the code. And thus began the epic of civilisation to establish the procedures between crime and punishment and redirect the management of revenge and retribution.

    The «lex talionis» also establishes a measure of reciprocity. A broken arm for a broken arm.

    There are a few among us who will always find themselves subdued by the desire for revenge and the aesthetics of cruelty.

    Aim high

    Going along, the law of proportionality will be used to further regulate war throughout history, men will try to put the reins on the daemon of war. Alongside a list of bloody punishments, the code also gives us the first historic inclusion of the «innocent until proven otherwise». Crime is punishable only under the burden of proof.

    It cannot be argued that we have sought to move in the opposite direction to cruelty. Thus the «eye for an eye» was overcome by the «turning the other cheek.» It might seem contradictory that this is one of the fundamental precepts of Christianity and, yet, it is today, for the most part, the children of Judeo-Christian-Muslim monotheism who live caught up in the bloodiest revenge and the least restrained acts of war.

    And still one of the great problems for warlords is that a very large number of soldiers refuse to shoot at the enemy. Although the statistics are highly contested, a huge number of soldiers «aim high» to avoid the heavy conscience that comes with taking a life.

    Our documentary filmmakers are concerned with visiting these human contradictions as well, following an American mercenary who suffers nightmares and PTSD and yet cannot avoid returning to war. You can’t tell if he likes to kill but seeks moral justification, or if war has him imprisoned, a slave to the extreme vitality that surround death.

    Laws for the control of violence not only demonstrate our ancient determination to control and even eradicate cruelty, revenge and violence, but also show that there is a part of the human population that will always find pleasure in murder and violent domination. There are a few among us who will al-ways find themselves subdued by the desire for revenge and the aesthetics of cruelty. Or perhaps there is within us all a part that tends to that atavism?

    Faced with these human dilemmas, the documentary follows a small team of Swedish technologists who rave about advances in war technology. Advances that allow drones to take autonomous military actions. Drones will never «aim high».

    Bellum - The Daemon of War, a film by David Herdies, Georg Götmark
    Bellum – The Daemon of War, a film by David Herdies, Georg Götmark


    The ramifications of abandoning civilisation’s lengthy effort to limit and reduce cruelty by eliminating the human component in military decision-making should not be welcomed by anyone. And yet there is an international military complex that has been jumping to the forefront of automated assassination for years, trying to bypass the proof of guilt, proportionality and the burden of conscience.

    It is clear, thanks to the commercial conversations of arms technologists, that there is a demon of war that lives beyond specific conflicts, with the sole objective of unleashing its might on mankind with the greatest fierceness, autonomy and cruelty, in any place where its tentacles might reach. This daemon, Bellum, feeds on its own and needs nothing from us. Nothing except that we look away. Or that we confuse ourselves with toddler questions.

    Is technology designed for murder bad per se, or is it our use of it?

    If God has created us as the pinnacle of intelligence and we create a superior intelligence capable of annihilating ourselves, are we God? Or maybe we are just fools?

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    Marc Molas Carol
    Spanish editor at Modern Times Review, and Catalan music producer, based in Barcelona.
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