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Tech Talk 09052018

• A key opponent of high-tech, automated weapons known as “killer robots” is blaming countries like the US and Russia for blocking consensus at a UN-backed conference, where most countries wanted to ensure that humans stay at the controls of lethal machines.

Coordinator Mary Wareham of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots spoke on Monday after experts from dozens of countries agreed before dawn on Saturday at the UN in Geneva on ten “possible guiding principles” about such “Lethal Automated Weapons Systems”.

Point 2 said: “Human responsibility for decisions on the use of weapons systems must be retained since accountability cannot be transferred to machines.”

Wareham said such language wasn’t binding, adding that “it’s time to start laying down some rules now”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the principles and expressed hopes the countries who signed on “can build upon this achievement”, according to a statement from his spokesman.

Wareham said delegates had just “kicked the can down the road” until the next meeting on LAWS in November. The “usual suspects” including the United States, Russia, Israel and South Korea — joined unexpectedly by Australia, she said — were behind an effort to keep the text from being more binding.

“The fact is that it’s the majority that wants it, but you know, it’s the Convention on Conventional Weapons — and this is where, it’s about consensus and ... a small minority of states — or even a single one can hold back the desires of the majority,” Wareham said.

• Google is toeing the line between helping you save time and creeping you out as it turns to machines to suggest email replies on your behalf.

The customised auto-responses come in the latest version of Gmail on the web and expand on a feature already available on Android devices and iPhones. They’re just one more example of how artificial intelligence is seeping into everyday online life, whether it’s to tailor product recommendations or correct spelling.

So far the new feature has been drawing mixed responses from users.

The new feature, called Smart Reply, offers three short responses, like “It was great seeing you too”, or “I’ll look into it”. Unlike standard auto-replies when on vacation, for instance, these are customised to an individual email based on its context. If you select one, you can either send it immediately or edit it before sending.

The responses are automatically created using Google’s artificial intelligence systems.

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