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Running title: Army of None – Autonomous Weapons And The Future of War.

Several years ago, I wrote a review for P.W. Singer’s Wired For War: a book that talked about the growing use of robots in the military. In the 80s, movies such as Short Circuit (Johnny 5 alive !!!) and the Terminator was among many factors that drove me in the arms of undergraduate engineering academia. And though I don’t work in the field, like a really great ex-wife, the interest still remains (just don’t mention that to my librarian career … she can be vicious). So, needless to say, when I discovered that this book was sitting on the (library) shelves, I homed in on it like a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone (yeah, I couldn’t help myself … and yes, I need to go out more). But enough of the bollocks and be on with it, yeah.

Drones have come a long way since their debut in the military. They’ve practically infiltrated many facets of society which, in some cases, seem odd but over the years have become one of those “what-would-we-do-without” moments. From aerial shots/videos in real estate listings and weddings to research to the occasional tosser out there that wants to watch female neighbours undress (yes, grade A wanks have been caught doing this … sad commentary there). Drones, love them or hate them, have become that the tool that we’ve always wanted but never knew. Written by Paul Scharre, a former Army ranger that served four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, None is a well-researched and informative piece about what is quite active and what’s on the horizon in military automatons. And some of it is possibly , downright scary. Are we talking Skynet? Not quite, and as we speak there is still some reluctance in folks to commit Artifical Intelligence (AI) onto some decent and lethal weapons system (with no human interaction) and expect something “good” will happen. An even scary revelation about this is that America isn’t the only person with the cool “toys” on the battlefield, for there are now over 16 nations that employ robotic weaponry in their military. And to make you sleep even more soundly at night: they are finding themselves in hands of groups like ISIS and Hezbollah though not as sophisticated as those in the US military. But … still. Though based around military uses, the book explores the development of non-weaponized autonomous machines such as self-driving cars, etc. Apparently, we are in a sort of an AI development race. Interesting terms that’ll be added to your mental database: supervised autonomy and loitering munitions. Currently weapon systems that exist today and categorized as autonomous are actually a supervised autonomy (i.e. there is human that is still in the loop when using these systems). Unlike nuclear weapons, it is refreshing to see that there is a lot of thought going into developing and using fully automated, AI controlled systems and not usher in the age of SkyNet. Oh well, there goes my hopes of running off into the desert with Linda Hamilton. Of course it only takes one person to open that Pandora’s box and drink from that forbidden fount … and before you know it … SkyNet (and desert living with Linda, fingers crossed).
Like Wired For War, Army of None is informative and yes, a very cautionary about the use of autonomous military vehicles, but riveting and eye opening to the wonderful and promising non-military applications. Makes you wonder what the world would have been like if someone had spent the time writing about nuclear energy with the same passion of Singer or Scharre. BTW, as I always like to take the time and extend a bit of salutations to authors that have served in uniform and so I say to Mr. Scharre, thank you for your service and God Bless you and yours, mate.

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