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Microchips and megadeaths

Enter here to explore ethical issues and discuss the meaning and source of morality.
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Alan H
Posts: 24067
Joined: July 3rd, 2007, 10:26 pm

Microchips and megadeaths

#1 Post by Alan H » May 11th, 2008, 5:52 pm

The following was an editorial in Electronics World in January 1998, reiterating an editorial in the magazine's predecessor, Wireless World, in December 1980. From 1980, the magazine refused to accept any job adverts from defence companies (I don't know if this is still their policy). However, this had a impact on me by reinforcing the views I already had: that I would not be involved in designing any weapons.
Microchips and megadeaths

"Then I was shocked by the feeling that the skin of my face had come off. Then, the hands and arms, too. Starting from the elbow to the fingertips, all the skin of my right hand came off and hung down grotesquely. The skin of my left hand, all five fingers, all came off... Hundreds of people were squirming in the stream. I couldn't tell if they were men or women. They all looked alike. Their faces were swollen and grey, their hair standing up. Holding their hands high, groaning, people were rushing to the river... Under the bridge were floating, like dead dogs or cats, many corpses, barely covered by tattered clothes. In the shallow water near the bank, a woman was lying face upward, her breasts were torn away and blood spurting... By my side many junior high school students were squirming in agony. They were crying insanely 'Mother! Mother!' They were so severely burned and bloodstained that one could scarcely dare to look at them. I could do nothing for them but watch them die one by one, seeking their mothers in vain."
(Eyewitness account, Hiroshima, 6 August 1945)

Engineers played their part in the making of these events. Thirty-five years later their role has become central, for the technology of delivering death has been greatly improved. We no longer have to rely on manned aircraft to drop atomic bombs but send them as the warheads of self-guided missiles. This is where electronic engineering makes its particular contribution to slaughter, in the design of the guidance system. Consider, for example, the Trident and the Tomahawk, the two nuclear missiles which the UK Government, without benefit of open Parliamentary debate, has swung on a reluctant nation. Both of these have guidance systems which rely on advanced digital microelectronics to update an inertial navigator. In the Trident, a submarine- launched ballistic missile intended as Britain's independent nuclear weapon, the electronic system receives reference information from the optical pattern of the stars. The Tomahawk, part of a NATO arsenal that will be owned and operated by US military forces, is a cruise missile; here the electronic system receives reference information on the geographic contours of the desired route from a magnetic-core memory and information on the actual contours over which it is travelling from a radar altimeter. And such is technical progress that as we get more and more devices on a single silicon chip so we are able to kill more and more people with a single missile.

Through work on such weapons electronics engineers in the East and the West have put themselves in the service of politicians, generals and industrialists who have become monomaniacs; who seem to see no way out of the self-perpetuating system of threat and counter-threat into which they have locked themselves and, like drug-addicts, desperately go on with it. The only thing likely to drag them out of their dementia is a threat from another direction — a concerted threat of rebellion from the trapped populations.

It becomes increasingly clear, as our distinguished American contemporary Science has said, "that deterrence cannot ultimately be stable, and that the civilian populations of the world are no longer defended by the armed forces for which their taxes pay, but are merely hostages to them."

None of us can be proud to serve a technology which is being used in the name of "defence" as a means to attain immense human suffering. Because we know what this technology can do we should be among the leaders of dissent."

This remarkable leader first appeared in Wireless World, November 1980. It was written by Tom Ivall, then editor of Wireless World and one of the most polite, considerate and intelligent men I have had the pleasure to work with. He died on 12 October 1997, but since he taught me all I know about producing the magazine, his influence lives on.

Martin Eccles.
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

tubataxidriver
Posts: 375
Joined: August 3rd, 2007, 10:39 pm

Re: Microchips and megadeaths

#2 Post by tubataxidriver » May 11th, 2008, 6:58 pm

For those scientists and engineers who feel strongly about these issues there is a very good organisation which works to educate and lobby for a more responsible application of science and engineering.

Scientists and Engineers for Global Responsibility

They publish briefing papers and educational material for S&Es in training.

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Alan H
Posts: 24067
Joined: July 3rd, 2007, 10:26 pm

Re: Microchips and megadeaths

#3 Post by Alan H » May 11th, 2008, 10:29 pm

It looks very interesting, TTD [---][/---] thanks for posting it. I'll spend some time looking through their site later.
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

MedMae
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Joined: March 14th, 2008, 9:46 am

Re: Microchips and megadeaths

#4 Post by MedMae » May 12th, 2008, 10:33 am

One problem I see here is that a lot of knowledge could be used to heal or harm. should we stop our research on genetic engineering (a technology which could save millions of lives and improve the quality of even more) because it could be used to genetically engineer supersoldiers or biological weapons?

Even if I do not work for a company developing these weapons my work could still be used by them.
Complexity is just simplicity multiplied to a point which exceeds a particular level of comprehension. - Theowarner

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Alan H
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Re: Microchips and megadeaths

#5 Post by Alan H » May 14th, 2008, 11:12 pm

Perhaps there are unintended consequences (or at least unforeseen at the time) of some jobs, but designing a missile guidance system is pretty clear cut!
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

MedMae
Posts: 167
Joined: March 14th, 2008, 9:46 am

Re: Microchips and megadeaths

#6 Post by MedMae » May 15th, 2008, 9:09 am

Alan H wrote:Perhaps there are unintended consequences (or at least unforeseen at the time) of some jobs, but designing a missile guidance system is pretty clear cut!
But the technology to make the missile guidance chips is already developed it's just a case of applying it differently. I do not disagree with you I'm just trying to point out that it is not as clear cut as it may seem. As a scientist in training I have to accept that any research I do may be usable in warfare. I will not work for a company which makes weapons but they may still use my work. Thus indeirectly I work for them.
Complexity is just simplicity multiplied to a point which exceeds a particular level of comprehension. - Theowarner

anthonyo4
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Joined: August 9th, 2008, 3:35 am

Re: Microchips and megadeaths

#7 Post by anthonyo4 » August 9th, 2008, 3:50 am

create a hidden flaw that can disable the weapon which only those with the know how can exploit

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Alan H
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Re: Microchips and megadeaths

#8 Post by Alan H » August 9th, 2008, 8:41 am

I like the way you think!


:welcome: Anthony!
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

DKB
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Joined: October 8th, 2013, 5:15 am

Re: Microchips and megadeaths

#9 Post by DKB » October 8th, 2013, 10:51 am

I went googling for a phrase and arrived late to this party...
I had a subscription to Wireless World in the late 70s/early 80s and I remember the "Microchips and Megadeaths" editorial very well. The letters page turned into a firework display of cancelled subs, shouts of approval, accusations of stoogery etc that echoed until the editor called a halt after a year or so. It was thought-provoking.
It became acutely relevant when a few years later, Raytheon bought the company I was working for. I resigned eventually, my letter specifically mentioning disquiet at working for "a company that makes most of its money from making machines that kill people". That editorial did affect me, and some of the letter-writers might well have labelled me a stooge, but looking back, my only regret is that I didn't manage to resign sooner.

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Alan H
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Re: Microchips and megadeaths

#10 Post by Alan H » October 8th, 2013, 12:44 pm

Thanks for that DKB.

If I had a copy of the original, I'd have it framed and on my wall. The article did have a big impact on me although I had already set my mind not to work in defence just before then (I graduated in 1979), but it helped enormously to cement my views.

I started work for a company that had a defence division, but we were quite separate and I never contributed to it, always ensuring I was well away from anything military as best I could. However, we did later subcontract some chip design to Raytheon (as it was at the time, IIRC), but that wasn't my decision.

I've also worked for a company that was taken over by a multinational that did have significant military links - again I was not directly involved. I wish I had had the confidence to resign on those grounds, but, unfortunately, financial commitments and the job market at the time made it impossible for me. I am now - thankfully - completely out of it and will remain so the rest of my working life (what there is left of it!).
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

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