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‘The Ethical Governor’ and the Genius of John Butler

According to the dictionary, the definition of the word genius includes:

n., pl., -ius·es.

Extraordinary intellectual and creative power.

That’s good enough for me, for by this definition, digital animator John Butler is a genius.

If you don’t know John’s work, then here’s a good place to start - an article Richard Metzger wrote up for Dangerous Minds, taken from an interview carried out with Butler earlier this year.

John is that rare and distinct thing, a creative talent with a unique and powerful vision - one that informs his analysis of current events into original speculative fictions. Underpinning this, John uses the terms and language of the military and financial sector, subverting them to reveal their true meaning.

All of which can be seen in his latest presentation The Ethical Governor, described as:

This presentation demonstrates a prototype of the Ethical Governor, a key component in the ethical projection of unmanned autonomous force.

In an exclusive interview with Dangerous Minds John Butler talks about the ideas behind The Ethical Governor and how they reflect today’s political, corporate and military world.

“I’ve been very interested in all aspects of what is now branded as the Long War, which I see as a war between Finance and Humans, rather than East versus West, Capitalism versus Islam, or whatever. 

A military invasion to secure resources and a financial austerity package to placate bondholders are all part of a unified process. It’s just that force is applied in a somewhat cruder manner in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Africa.

What I’ve done is transposed the action to the Homeland, where it will eventually arrive anyway. The Drones are Chamber of Commerce assets, part of the elite Milton Friedman Unit.”

What is the inspiration for the presentation?

“The piece is based on actual systems being developed in universities right now in anticipation of fully autonomous war fighting. What I’ve done is resynthesised an academic presentation to reveal it’s true intent.

The language comes from the Military Educational Complex, but has been rewritten by the Butler Brothers to fictionalize it, and therefore make it more effective.

Concepts like the “Ethical Adaptor” actually exist. I liked that aspect most of all, the calibration of guilt, and the option to override the Ethical Governor when convenient.

I think that says it all about battlefield ethics. I like the idea of robots being “in Harm’s Way”, one of my favourite phrases.

How does this relate to what’s happening just now in the world?

“The anti IMF riots in Greece and the protests in Ireland and here are attempts by Humans to react to the Process.

Young people in Britain have no access to home ownership now, which is a detail that might have been overlooked, so they seem to have less to lose that Thatcher’s generation.

What are you working on next?

“Thinking up a companion piece just now, provisionally called Triage. It would be great to project this somewhere soon, as part of a Forum for the Future.”


John Butler has forwarded Dangerous Minds an article on War Machines: Recruiting Robots for Combat from the New York Times, which confirms much of The Ethical Governor‘s theory, including:

“A lot of people fear artificial intelligence,” said John Arquilla, executive director of the Information Operations Center at the Naval Postgraduate School. “I will stand my artificial intelligence against your human any day of the week and tell you that my A.I. will pay more attention to the rules of engagement and create fewer ethical lapses than a human force.”

Dr. Arquilla argues that weapons systems controlled by software will not act out of anger and malice and, in certain cases, can already make better decisions on the battlefield than humans.


Previously on Dangerous Minds

An Interview With Avant Garde Animator John Butler


Posted by Paul Gallagher
12:26 pm



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