“These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends”

In 2016, a television show called Westworld aired on HBO. Based on the original 1973 film written by Michael Crichton, both the tv series and movie are set in an amusement park full of androids programmed to give visitors action, excitement, and oftentimes violent delights, without consequences. After all, they’re just robots…

Even if you’ve never seen the show, you can guess what comes next. Assumedly secure programming malfunctions and violent ends are visited upon the humans. The original Battlestar Galactica series, which debuted in 1978 and has a 21st century reboot as well, was also based on this premise. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Stanley Kubrick’s, 2001: A Space Odyssey, which hit theaters in 1968. The point is, society has been contemplating its relationship with, and the consequences of creating, robots/androids/AI for well over half a century!

If you’re still reading, you’re probably wondering, “What does this have to do with the Montana Legislature?” This week, a bill (HB 594) prohibiting the sale and use of certain autonomous robots will have a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Friday at 8:00 a.m. Titled, the “Killer Robot Attack Ban Act,” it explicitly prohibits the manufacture, possession, use, or sale of a lethal autonomous weapon system in Montana. Penalties include a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and/or a fine up to $50,000.

When I first saw the draft, I laughed out loud. Are we really concerned that Cyberdyne Systems is looking to establish a branch in Bozeman?! Then I remembered how unsettled I was after watching the film Ex Machina. To this day, it sends a chill up my spine to think that robots would exceed the Turing test, not only exhibiting human behavior, but demonstrating consciousness. And if Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t trust artificial intelligence, Three Laws of Robotics or not. 

Assuming we need to ban killer robots, what does it matter if Montana passes a law? We’d accomplish just as much as we would if our state were to ban fossil fuels to combat climate change. Considering this is an issue best addressed a few levels above our state, it would be instructive to know what other entities are working to ban killer robots.

Naturally, I turned to what I assume is the authority on AI, AI. Logging onto my ChatGPT account, I asked what other states are working on killer robot bans. The OpenAI gave me the following response: 

Good to know this is a global conversation that has clearly garnered very serious consideration. However, we should note: (1) all the countries listed are close partners and/or allies of the U.S.; and (2) “others have expressed support for the development and deployment of such systems.” Presumably, this would include nations hostile to the U.S. and our interests. When queried about countries actively developing autonomous weapons systems, the OpenAI identified a couple countries that you would expect:

Countries across the world have been meeting for around a decade, wrestling with the question of how to handle autonomous weapons, absent binding agreements. An Arms Control Association article highlights the disagreement, “Opponents insist that such weapons can never be made intelligent enough to comply with the laws of war and international humanitarian law. Advocates say autonomous weapons, as they develop, can play a useful role in warfare without violating those laws.”

Additionally, a blog posted on the Council on Foreign Relations website authored by a couple West Point professors notes, “There is an existing body of international law that addresses those concerns. An autonomous weapons system is already prohibited if it behaves unpredictably or its intended performance is unreliable. It is even a war crime to use such a weapon, knowing that it cannot reliably be directed against lawful military targets in a discriminatory manner.”

Bringing it back to Montana, it’s understandable why the numerous co-sponsors from across the political spectrum have signed onto this bill. It’s a justifiable moral high ground, even if it’s unlikely the law will have any meaningful impact on the larger debate or use of lethal autonomous weapons. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a debate worth having.

Fans of the Terminator series might argue our attempts to stem the AI apocalypse are futile. Regardless the efforts of the Resistance, alternate timelines of the struggle continue to manifest. It may be that things are now in motion that cannot be undone… or, maybe Hollywood simply found a formula of alarmism that resonates with humanity.

You can watch the hearing here.

Note: the Billings Chamber does not have a policy position on this topic, just an interest in informing our membership of this intriguing bill.

Working for You

Senate Bill 323

Allow for duplex, triplex, and fourplex housing in city zoning

Sen. Jeremy Trebas (R)

SD 13

Billings Chamber: SUPPORTS

This bill would eliminate exclusionary zoning by allowing additional homes to be built on a lot. Many local zoning codes mandate exclusionary zoning throughout a majority of residential areas, including Billings, making housing less available and more expensive. Beyond negative impacts on the housing market, it segregates citizens. An article in the Journal of the American Planning Association points out, “[Exclusionary zoning] was born from, and codifies, base and tribal instincts: a desire to set privileged in-groups apart and keep feared or despised out-groups at bay.” The Governor’s Housing Task Force identified this recommendation (3B) in its final report. The bill will be heard today in (S) Local Government at 3:00 pm.

House Bill 553

Housing for Montana Families Act

Rep. Alice Buckley (D)

HD 63

Billings Chamber: SUPPORTS

This bipartisan-sponsored bill would allow the development of accessory dwelling units by right in all residential or mixed commercial and residential zones. Accessory dwelling units (ADUs), sometimes referred to as “granny flats,” can provide affordable infill housing through investment from current homeowners. ADU development often faces numerous hurdles such as special reviews, parking requirements, and impact fees, making them less attractive to develop—often by design. This bill restores property rights and can help address our housing supply and affordability issues. It will be heard Thursday at 3:00 pm in (H) Local Gov.

Legislative Videoconferences

Noon – 1:00pm

January 19th

February 2nd: Billings REALTORS

February 16th: Big Sky EDA

March 2nd: Downtown Billings

March 16th

March 30th

April 13th

Videoconference sessions will be held in the Liberal Arts Building, Room 208 at the MSU Billings campus, where individuals will have the opportunity to hear from, and ask questions of, our local legislators. There is a limit of 25 people for each in-person session and a box lunch will be provided for those who RSVP. Come and hear from our local legislators about what is happening in Helena and give your feedback. Thanks to MSU Billings and our sponsors: Billings Association of REALTORSBig Sky Economic DevelopmentDowntown Billings Alliance, and the newly certified LEED Gold, City of Billings.

Virtual Testimony Makes It Easy

  • You will be able to select from the bills scheduled for the next 3 days. 
  • By 5PM the day before the hearing, you will be able to submit your written testimony, write a brief message, or request a Zoom link to testify in the bill hearing.
  • Fill out the form with the pertinent details and submit. You will receive an email confirmation.
  • You do not have to testify in order to submit written comments. Written comments received by the deadline will be distributed to all committee members. However, if you request a Zoom link, we request that you write a brief message in the event of technical difficulties so that your name will be entered into the record. 
  • If you wish to submit written testimony after the 5PM deadline, please call the Information Desk at (406) 444-4800 for assistance​.
  • Rules of decorum must be followed, and the Presiding Officer will call on you when it is your turn to speak. Follow the Zoom directions and raise your hand to let the Remote Committee Coordinator know when you want to speak. We will not assume that because you requested the Zoom link that you automatically want to testify.  There may be limits placed on how many people are allowed to testify remotely on each bill.

Additional Resources

Business Advocacy Sponsors

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to the Billings Chamber’s Business Advocacy Director, Dan Brooks, with questions, comments, or if you just want to chat about the legislature.

Email Dan at daniel@billingschamber.com