Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

Beware the drones

Sir: Well said, Daniel Suarez ('Drone warfare is coming, '4 August). These flying killing machines we call drones are a menace to humanity. We had better wake up to the threat they pose before it's too late.

Anybody with a cursory knowledge of pop culture can tell you what happens when automatons develop the intelligence to make 'kill decisions'. The consequences are not pretty. (If you need reminding, watch The Matrix, or Terminator. ) But it seems our cleverest engineers - and the people in power who pay them - are either unfazed by such concerns or nerdily eager to turn fantasy into reality.

Perhaps, in fact, the trouble is that people are too quick to think of fighting robots as existing within the realm of science fiction. We are so familiar with the concept of machines turning on their human makers - the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov wearily called it the 'Frankenstein complex' - that we dismiss our fears about real-life, actual drones and kill-bots.

Mark Wardrop


Sir: Speaking as a paranoiac, I have to say that your cover article about drones hasn't helped. Now when an insect appears at the window I shall always be wondering: is that a fly or a spy? Seems a bit unkind but I may decide to err on the side of caution and swat it regardless.

Thomas Glass


The curse of statistics

Sir: Martin Vander Weyer identifies the greatest curse of modern statistics: their universal use in support of almost every argument ('GDP figures tell only part of the story', 4 August 2012). In observing that 'the more detailed and authoritative the forecast, the higher the chance it will turn out to be a load of old cobblers', he restates what, in June 1961, Dr E .F. Schumacher so succinctly described as 'spurious verisimilitude'. Over 50 years ago Fritz Schumacher identified (in a lecture entitled 'A Machine to Foretell the Future?') the problem thus: 'Once you have a formula and an electronic computer, there is an awful temptation . . . to present a picture of the future which through its very precision and verisimilitude carries conviction.'

Present manifestations of this tendency are absolutely endless.

Richard Wood-Penn


Sir: I agree with Martin Vander Weyer that economic forecasts are disproved at an alarming rate. It is worth noting that error margins, which are essential to any scientific measurement or calculation, are never given alongside the predictions. You can't help but wonder if this is because, when dealing with such small percentages, a significant proportion of figures would be rendered entirely useless.

Carola Binney


Romney's roots

Sir: Charles Moore is right that Mitt Romney is a Mormon because of his English ancestor Miles Romney (Notes, 4 August), but he is a kinsman of the artist George Romney (1734-1802) as Miles Romney was the son of Thomas Romney, the uncle of George Romney. …

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