Tuesday, September 20, 2011

O brave new world

That has such creatures in it!

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 Fort Benning tarp “is a rather simple target, but think of it as a surrogate,” said Charles E. Pippin, a scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, which developed the software to run the demonstration. “You can imagine real-time scenarios where you have 10 of these things up in the air and something is happening on the ground and you don’t have time for a human to say, ‘I need you to do these tasks.’ It needs to happen faster than that.”

The demonstration laid the groundwork for scientific advances that would allow drones to search for a human target and then make an identification based on facial-recognition or other software. Once a match was made, a drone could launch a missile to kill the target.
Before James Cameron's "Terminator," there was a Philip K. Dick story about killer robots, which didn't involve time travel or happy endings. Machines had been created to kill people, and the machines were very, very good at it. So much so that in the world of Dick's story, human beings had largely abandoned the planet and moved to the Moon, the better to oversee the slaughter of the enemy on earth. Most of the killing machines, of course, looked like machines. But in the story, the machines (which were already producing the killing machines; if you can manufacture machines that can kill, why not manufacture machines to manufacture the machines that can kill?) start producing machines that look human (terminators!) so they can get past all the defenses humans use to keep the machines from killing them (the killing machines aren't terribly discriminating; a human target is a human target. Much more efficient that way.)

At the end of the story, it turns out the machines have produced several different types of "human" killing machines, and one of them boards a rocket for the Moon before the people on the Moon can be warned of this new development. Like I said, Dick doesn't deal in the happy endings Hollywood prefers. And yes, it's quite a leap from programmed drones to anything resembling the world of the Terminator or Dick's nightmare.

But tell me again why we are even thinking about going there. Is it really because it's more efficient, because "It needs to happen faster than that"?

This is when "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" can be a frightening insight.

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