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Tuesday, December 08, 2009


Some time ago I blogged about the Fredkin Prize which was a comparatively small series of prizes for achieving a computer programme capable of beating a Grand Master at chess. Put up in 1980 the main prize was won in 1997.

With Moore's Law (computer capacity doubles every 18 months) it has now increased some million times since 1980 & 250 times since 1997. Time for something bigger. The golden aim of such computer science is something that can pass the Turing Test - be able to carry out a conversation indistinguishable from that of a human (& more technical way of saying a computer with human level intelligence). I will aim for something lower - or higher.

I propose a series of prizes should be put up for a process culminating in the establishment of an open source computer programme which could determine the legality of national actions under international law.

The prizes should start with something capable of rendering a simulated decision in a war game atmosphere which both sides agreed was satisfactory. Then a larger prize for something used in a real situation & ultimately for one which successfully acts as a judge on the International Court of Justice, or if that option is refused, is able, on its own to render judgement in a years worth of different cases with judgements not agreed by a worldwide panel, to be inferior to the ICJ rulings. It is obviously necessary that, though the copyright remains in the designer's hands, the programme be open source so that it can be checked & run by anybody who needs to be able to trust it.

Law is a very computer like system with either/or decisions, set rules, logic & great importance laid on previous examples. As such it would be much easier for a computer programme to impersonate a superior judge than an ordinary human being.

It is overstating to say this would provide peace on Earth but it would provide a framework for it. Conflict usually occurs when both sides have convinced themselves they are in the right. Even where it isn't it is usually important for bystanders to be able to make a decision on that order.

I have blogged previously on the Yugoslav wars. It is arguable that the greatest harm from these wars is that international law has been almost eliminated by the way that not only did NATO deliberately flout much of it (the Helsinki Treaty admonition to respect the territorial integrity of other signatories such as Yugoslavia, the UN Charter with similar provisions, The Montevideo accord giving specific rules where "recognition" of states is allowed, the Nuremberg Trials "where planning aggressive war" was declared to be the primary war crime etc etc) but that they have used their influence on the ICJ to produce judgements which are clearly corrupt (that the ICJ claimed to have no authority to judge on whether NATO's aggression against Yugoslavia was a war crime because Yugoslavia was suspended from the UN, but previously ruling on a case brought by Bosnia & Hercegovina against Yugoslavia when B&H was not & never had been a UN member being the most disgraceful) while NATO abused the UN rules to set up & fund its own "court" to try Serbs but only token Croats & Moslems & zero NATO leaders.

The world needs a rule of law more desperately than at any time in history since the world is smaller & thus more vulnerable - decisions in isolated Afghanistan can mean acts of war within the USA. Such vulnerability to foreign power was inconceivable to the USA of a century ago though it was a much less overwhelming power.

I do not say that having such decisions on record would automatically stop any aggressor but it would provide a major dampening effect to tension. Any aggressor would be known, both by its neighbours & by its own people to be the aggressor & that would make the attempt much more chancy. If it reduced the chances of an aggressive war it would also reduce the motivation for a pre-emptive attack. Not perfection - perfection would be having a mass UN army purely under the control of this Judgement Programme which I would most definitely oppose - but a major pressure towards peace, while maintaining freedom.

Bearing in mind the size of the Fredkin Prize (initially $360,000 in today's money boosted to $4 million) this seems a low price for world peace, which is why though this is not physically big like the other BE projects it is BIG.

I would limit this to the International Court of Justice not the International Criminal Court which, until Yugoslavia, had a significant role in promoting peace, not least between the super powers - indeed the fact that both sides showed extensive respect for the letter of international law may have been a major reason the cold war stayed cold. Anybody who thinks the ICC rules & precedent can be put into a computer programme without it issuing indictments against most of the world's leaders including our own is welcome to try.

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Funny how Croatia tryed to bring a case against Serbia in the ICJ then backed off as soon as Serbia threatend to bring a counter case.

Also Croatia currently supporting Kosovo's seccesion in the World Court sighting the very same reasons that it opposed when Kraijina tryed to brake away.
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