Thursday, September 22, 2011

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?...and Ultrarunning

In a Page 1 article in Tuesday's Washington Post entitled A Possible Future For Drones: Automated Killing, we read about a successful test of autonomous drones to acquire and identify a target:
This successful exercise in autonomous robotics could presage the future of the American way of war: a day when drones hunt, identify and kill the enemy based on calculations made by software, not decisions made by humans. Imagine aerial "Terminators," minus beefcake and time travel.

The killing of terrorism suspects and insurgents by armed drones, controlled by pilots sitting in bases thousands of miles away in the western United States, has prompted criticism that the technology makes war too antiseptic. Questions also have been raised about the legality of drone strikes when employed in places such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, which are not at war with the United States. This debate will only intensify as technological advances enable what experts call lethal autonomy.

The prospect of machines able to perceive, reason and act in unscripted environments presents a challenge to the current understanding of international humanitarian law. The Geneva Conventions require belligerents to use discrimination and proportionality, standards that would demand that machines distinguish among enemy combatants, surrendering troops and civilians.

"The deployment of such systems would reflect a paradigm shift and a major qualitative change in the conduct of hostilities," Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said at a conference in Italy this month. "It would also raise a range of fundamental legal, ethical and societal issues, which need to be considered before such systems are developed or deployed."

Seriously, if the Washington Post is carrying this article on its front page, I have to believe that research and development must be MUCH further along than hinted here.  This functionality is probably pretty close to being deployable...only we won’t know about it.

Note: I see where The Earth Bound Misfit has also weighed in, and not on the thumbs up side either.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  Imagine running down a peaceful trail with some companions, only to be suddenly vaporized by a terminator drone, invisible overhead.  This is what is happening (via pilots, not autonomously yet) in the war zones, but I think that pressure would mount--if this technology "works"--to use it domestically. It's not all that far-fetched a scenario, given the increasing state of "us vs. them" that seems to be polarizing the nation. 


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