Allan Takes Aim Blog

Free speech has a past but has it a future?

Posted on: 28 November 2012

In 1689 two momentous acts occurred in England’s Parliament that would echo down the ages: it passed a Bill of Rights that granted ‘freedom of speech in Parliament,’ and made the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.’ Article 11 of the declaration provides for freedom of expression thus: “The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.’

Exactly one hundred years later in 1789, the French Revolution also affirmed freedom of speech as an inalienable right.’ And as many people will know, later still, the American Constitution also carries the same right.

Most Australians and Britons probably think human rights legislation was introduced by either the American or French Republics and have no idea that human rights and freedom of speech legislation was the idea of upper class English men who were Members of the English Parliament because of their wealth.

Silly as it is Britons became so obsessed by class that moving up the class system became a burning goal. This accounts for why countries that Britain had added to its possessions as it sought to bestride the world have much the same system. And despite the resounding words of professed egalitarianism in many of those societies the class system still flourishes.

Unfortunately some countries became more class obsessed than the English, or British as they became later. As imitation is the sincerest form of flattery they were paying tribute to the British class system.

It is still happening in Australia because many older Australians and later migrants are people brought up in a British type culture. Not that Australia is alone in this. While other countries deny it, examination of American, Canadian, New Zealand, Australian and most African countries show a class system modelled on Britain’s. That some of them are republics and some want to be is of little import.

Indeed Monarchies and Republics are two sides of the same coin; like the farthing they are redundant. Indeed since time immemorial countries have changed from Monarchy to Republic much as people change their mind, although not for the same reason.

In most cases ambition for power was the driver of change. Xerxes, Alexander, Caesar, Various Vikings, Genghis Khan and more recent leaders such as Hitler, Stalin. Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi (and that’s only a few of them) wanted power so much they became dictators. In my opinion todays leaders are driven by the same ambition.

Despite alleged advances in civilisation many ambitious people still actively pursue power. Will such ambition ever die? I suspect not. A thousand years from now no matter on how many planets humanity lives, people will still be pursuing power.

In an article ‘Deadly decision of man or machine’ by Tom Malinowski (Opinion 9, November 27) posited that ‘Science is catching up to fiction.’ Malinowski makes mention of science fiction and films such as The Terminator and The Matrix.

Malinowski’s proposition raises some interesting questions. Will robots like the Terminator become reality? We already know that some robots have extraordinary skills. They perform delicate surgical operations, defuse bombs, operate complex machinery and also undertake domestic work that humans think beneath their dignity to undertake.

Indeed many tasks that humans once performed have succumbed to the advance of robots. This is not science fiction but reality. And nor is it inconceivable that in the not too distant future when, as Malinowski says, science has caught up to fiction, perhaps robots will not only have caught up with fiction but also started to create science fiction of its own and be making decisions on behalf of humans.

When that happens what will happen to freedom of speech? Will owners of a robot with decision making powers be answerable if it breaks the law? And what will happen if robots become self-replicating? While these are theoretical scenarios it seems likely that a whole new section of laws will need to be thought about and written to meet the possibility of a world with a population of robots almost indistinguishable from humans.

Bearing this in mind you might need to start making preparations now?

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5 Responses to "Free speech has a past but has it a future?"

Class systems exist in most societies whether they are modelled on the British system or not. What distinguishes them is the amount of mobility within them ranging from the old Indian class system with very limited if any to the American system of complete theoretical mobility if not reality for most. The British system of class largely overlaps the British Empires’ historical reach. The genesis of class is as old a civilization itself and springs from ideas at least as old as the Ten Commandments prohibition on coveting your neighbors property. Social beings have a hierarchy and class is the institutionalization of said hierarchy.
As for robots, it is a concern but it is more than just robots themselves. From Asimovs’ three laws Robots in “I Robot” to “Star Wars” droid army, robots have been depicted as the enemy. Self replicating robots from another source you did not mention, Stargate SG1 “replicators” had a similar depiction. However even those do not approach the terror of Eric Drexlers nanorobots where he states in his book Engines of Creation:
“Imagine such a replicator floating in a bottle of chemicals, making copies of itself…the first replicator assembles a copy in one thousand seconds, the two replicators then build two more in the next thousand seconds, the four build another four, and the eight build another eight. At the end of ten hours, there are not thirty-six new replicators, but over 68 billion. In less than a day, they would weigh a ton; in less than two days, they would outweigh the Earth; in another four hours, they would exceed the mass of the Sun and all the planets combined — if the bottle of chemicals hadn’t run dry long before”.
While self replication and the simple weight of numbers possible in machines makes robots problematic what makes them truly threatening is artificial intelligence. From such classics as “Collosus the Forbin Project” up through the aformentioned “Terminator” and “Matrix” series it is the machines self awareness that triggers the apocalypse. I think this is a worry for the distant future, if at all. Indeed it may be that like in Steven Spielbergs’ “AI” robots will remain hopelessly confined to their programming. Or it may be more like the “Mass Efffect” video game series where the cullmination of the series reveals in “Matrix-like” fashion that an Artificial Intelligence already runs the universe, revealing itself only when mankind produces a self aware AI.
In the end we can hope that the imagination of these writers will provide the neccesary cautionary tales to avoid these fates.

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