Posting in Government
The Navy is testing a new unmanned drone that may make lethal decisions based solely on mathematics and sensors.
A new aircraft from Northrop Grumman might make the idea of "robot overlords" seem uncomfortably real. The X-47B is a completely unmanned drone. Meaning, not only no pilot but no human control from the ground. Its missions are initially planned by humans but once these things are airborne they are guided and controlled by on-board computers.
Unmanned military drones, as we’ve come to know them, are controlled by pilots from a chair maybe halfway around the world. It might seem video-game like, providing such a great distance between the pilot and the reality of dropping bombs on real places and people. But at least there's a human at the controls somewhere, giving the order to fire. Now with the X-47B it will be the decision of an algorithm based on perceived threats that are described by sensors. So it begs the question, where is the accountability if something goes horribly wrong?
From the L.A. Times:
"Lethal actions should have a clear chain of accountability," said Noel Sharkey, a computer scientist and robotics expert. "This is difficult with a robot weapon. The robot cannot be held accountable. So is it the commander who used it? The politician who authorized it? The military's acquisition process? The manufacturer, for faulty equipment?"
Sharkey and others believe that autonomous armed robots should force the kind of dialogue that followed the introduction of mustard gas in World War I and the development of atomic weapons in World War II. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the group tasked by the Geneva Conventions to protect victims in armed conflict, is already examining the issue.
The X-47B is at least a decade from official deployment and there are no plans for it to be on bombing missions. Although it is equipped with a weapons bay that has a payload of 4,500 pounds. But the "X" in the name stands for experimental. So that is what it is, experimenting with the edges of complex unmanned skills. For instance, in 2013 it will become the first unmanned vehicle to take off from and land on an aircraft carrier, which is considered one of the most difficult aerial manoeuvres. It will do this by relying on extremely detailed GPS coordinates and constant interaction with the carrier’s computers that transmit speed and cross-wind data as the aircraft approaches the ship. And it will refuel itself in the air via an aerial tanker.
What remains, however, are some legal issues as government and military leaders need to debate whether machines can make lethal combat decisions. First stop for such discussions will be the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, which was formed in 2009 to keep members of Congress up to date on drone technology.
The number of drones in active duty has exploded in the last decade going from maybe a handful before 9/11 to about 7,500, apparently one third of all military aircraft. And their numbers are likely to keep growing since they are cheaper to build and operate than piloted planes.
So far the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System program is costing an estimated $813 million. In December it was delivered from the Mojave Desert to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland where experimentation will continue in 2012.
[via Los Angeles Times]
Jan 26, 2012
The idea of drones controlled by groundbased observers doesn't seem so bad at the moment (does it), but I wonder what real advantage there is in independent, unpiloted drones? Is it so they can deploy millions of them? That's an unsettling thought, since war is only one application for armed, flying drones.
This takes the oxymoron of 'military intelligence' to the absurd. A $235 million dollar jet with a self learning program to decide who are the good and bad guys are and the ability to kill them. Did Stephan King write this scenario?
It will probably work fine, without a problem, for many missions. But it is going to screw up once and that is going to be too many times.
We should send a flock of ersatz drones over there, but filled with IEDs like they do in Iraq. Let them disassemble one if they can; if not .............BOOM! Too bad, so sad!
Has the government been watching too many bad movies lately? This is the plot of the 2005 movie, "Stealth", which bombed! I'm afraid this project may wind up like the movie, except we may not have the ace fighter pilots who can shoot it down!
The robot drone should follow the same target and shoot procedures that human pilots do. Humans have some independance when fired upon to retaliate but usually have to get a command acknowledge before firing. In a different situation, an attack mission with a known target would be preauthorized before the mission. Most of us would be nervous with an armed drone flying around us. It would be a good idea to have some kind of fail safe to prevent a weird malfunction that causes the drone to go rogue.
I hope that these drones will use Secure GPS so we don't get terrorists crash landing them then ridiculing us with our own stupidity for not realizing that the GPS signal can be hacked to override the plane's location identification!
I like the current drones. I have two computers and a smart phone. They are not as smart as I am. I would prefer that matters of life and death be handled by people with a conscience.
I'm ok with all of it up until the part where the computer pulls the trigger. I don't even mind it if it's armed. I think there should be a human who actually pushes the button to fire the weapon. For example: We programmed the drone to bomb this building that is supposed to have a terrorist supply depot or something. We program it not to fire if there are people around shorter than 3.5ft tall. There is a parade that goes in front of the building with children walking on stilts. How is the computer going to know the difference? It's a ridiculous example but life's ridiculous sometimes. I've programmed computers enough to know that you can't take everything into account when writing a program. Let the drone do everything but pull the trigger. Trained button person: "Is the target on the screen with the big red X on it the one you want taken out Mr. President?" President: "Yes." Trained button person: "Then please push this big red button." President: (push) Trained button person: "Thank you Mr. President."