Skynet? No Worries!

Drones and other robotic war-fighting machines are becoming more and more ubiquitous. China has a new set of attack drones — aimed, for now anyway, at Russia — and nobody loves robotic warfare more than our drone-lovin’ president.

So it’s probably wise to ask: when will the unmanned attack drones start making their own…

  1. Nathan Harden
    C

    Rob, honestly, ask yourself: What’s scarier? Obama with a drone, or TMZ with a drone?

    In other words, would you rather be blown to bits by a flying robot, or photographed repeatedly through your bathroom window?

    Robotic rogue paparazzi–it’s only a matter of time.

  2. Casey
    Rob Long: 

    …“minimize the probability and consequences of failures”… “that could lead to unintended engagements,”…

    Sorry, perhaps I missed something…. What does Sandra Fluke have to do with Skynet?

  3. Mark Wilson

    There’s nothing to worry about.  As the youtube description says, “Fortunately, he doesn’t have hands and fingers to hold guns. Yet.”

  4. Misthiocracy

    I actually agree with Deputy Secretary Carter’s position, in theory.

    I see no problem, in principle, with aircraft that can technically fly themselves, as long as humans are telling them where to fly and are always ultimately in control.

    As an analogy, it’s sorta like the difference between a Radio-Controlled airplane vs. a robot.

    The kid on the ground with the RC airplane isn’t technically inside the airplane, but he’s always the one in control of the craft.  That’s a far cry from a kid who programs the airplane to go off and fly a pre-set pattern, which is entirely feasible thanks to miniature computers like the Gumstix, the Raspberry Pi, or Arduino microcontrollers.

    That’s precisely why the FAA’s proposed legislation for drone regulation makes an exception for RC aircraft (they must always be in line-of-sight of the operator, and the operator must always be in actual control of the aircraft.)

    That being said, IMHO, any distinction between “remote” vs. “autonomous” combat vehicles must be legislated and overseen by Congress, not simply by an edict of the Deputy Defense Secretary.

  5. The King Prawn
    Nathan Harden: Rob, honestly, ask yourself: What’s scarier? Obama with a drone, or TMZ with a drone?

    In other words, would you rather be blown to bits by a flying robot, or photographed repeatedly through your bathroom window?

    Robotic rogue paparazzi–it’s only a matter of time. · 5 minutes ago

    Edited 4 minutes ago

    If they’re photographing Rob through his bathroom window we’ll know the technology has gone full auto and around the bend at the same time…

  6. Misthiocracy
    Nathan Harden: Rob, honestly, ask yourself: What’s scarier? Obama with a drone, or TMZ with a drone?

    In other words, would you rather be blown to bits by a flying robot, or photographed repeatedly through your bathroom window?

    Of course, that would be illegal.  A paparazzi drone would only be allowed to photograph people in public.  Using a drone to photograph the interiors of private homes would be illegal.

    Yes, one can make the argument that drone technology makes it too easy to do, illegal or not, and therefore should be banned.

    However, we do not automatically ban a technology simply because it can be used to commit illegal acts.  Isn’t that what the 2nd Amendment is all about?  Also, binoculars are legal, no?

    Furthermore, with the exception for RC aircraft, there is nothing to stop TMZ from equipping a radio-controlled helicopter with a camera, so long as the operator is always within line-of-sight of the aircraft.

    One would presume that, if TMZ were given a license to operate a drone aircraft, the license would explicitly state that the FAA can revoke the license if the aircraft is ever used to perform illegal acts.

  7. Misthiocracy

    Apropos of nothing: Here’s the most recent video I’ve seen that demonstrates the current capabilities of Honda’s ASIMO robot, which only a few years ago still had trouble climbing stairs without falling down, and still needed to be tethered to an external power source.

    This video only portrays the capabilities that Honda is prepared to reveal to the public, at this time.  

    I assume that ASIMO’s actual capabilities go even further than what’s in the video, and the capabilities that are still at the experimental stage are probably pretty mind-boggling.

    Also, note that this video is almost a year old now.

    My point: Camera-equipped remote aircraft is LOW TECH at this point.

  8. John Murdoch

    Were I the Minister of Defense for a wannabe liberation front, I’d focus my efforts on (a) jamming, (b) signal-spoofing, (c) GPS spoofing, and (d) RF-triangulating drones. Drones have been successful in Afghanistan–but that’s only because the adversary has at least one foot in the Stone Age. 

    Jamming: these devices are communicating by radio. Any self-respecting ham operator can tell you the range of frequencies. Since the radio signals are sent from satellites, the signal strength is minuscule–they’re trivial to jam.

    Signal-spoofing: If college students in Texas can do it, so can we. 

    GPS-spoofing: GPS signals are also sent from geostationary satellites, so again the signal strength is minuscule. The Iranians have already demonstrated how to do this.

    RF-triangulating: the drone doesn’t just get commands–it reports data. With enough signal strength that a satellite can hear it–that’s big power. Which means any self-respecting ham within 20 miles can hear the noise, even if it’s encrypted. Drones are slow, and RF-targeted anti-aircraft missiles were high tech in 1960. 

  9. Valiuth

    Does no one read Assimov. The laws of Robotics will protect us. That is the answer to Skynet. It was like the first thing we thought of. 1: Cause no harm to humans.2: Cause no harm to yourself unless it would violate the first law.3: Obey all comands unless they violate the first and second laws.

  10. John Murdoch

    Remote-controlled paparazzi, on the other hand, are a far more realistic threat. Over Thanksgiving weekend an animal rights group was using a remote-controlled drone helicopter to film a pigeon shoot in eastern Pennsylvania. The shoot was private, and held on private property–the animal rights types were flying the drone over public land (an adjacent park), but taking pictures. 

    The news reports indicated that this kind of video surveillance is legal–for police and for nosy citizens. It will not be long at all before the paparazzi will be posting pix of topless sunbathing starlets shot from nearby drones. (And, the cynic in me suggests, PR agents for starlets will be scheming to ensure that it’s their clients who are photographed sunbathing topless, rather than somebody else.)

    The animal rights helicopter drone? It was “accidentally” hit by shotgun pellets and destroyed. Sadly, there’s no recoverable video evidence to indicate who might have shot it.

  11. KC Mulville

    Oh heck, why not go all in?

    The next GOP presidential nominee will be CGI. He’ll be cute. Maybe even cuddly. He’ll care (really really care) about those voters who suffer from Politician Care Deficit Disorder (PCDD). Or she’ll be a woman. We’ll decide that before launch.

    There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission.

  12. Percival
    Valiuth: Does no one read Assimov. The laws of Robotics will protect us. That is the answer to Skynet. It was like the first thing we thought of. 1: Cause no harm to humans.2: Cause no harm to yourself unless it would violate the first law.3: Obey all comands unless they violate the first and second laws. · 4 minutes ago

    Absolutely correct, Valiuth.  The programming of these drones will be meticulously tested, and everbody nose computer programers never maek misteaks.

  13. Foxman

    Robocop

  14. Misthiocracy
    John Murdoch: Were I the Minister of Defense for a wannabe liberation front, I’d focus my efforts on (a) jamming, (b) signal-spoofing, (c) GPS spoofing, and (d) RF-triangulating drones. Drones have been successful in Afghanistan–but that’s only because the adversary has at least one foot in the Stone Age. 

    It’s precisely that sort of electronic counter-measures that will result in fully-autonomous combat vehicles. When the military finds that their remotely-operated combat vehicles are being jammed, the solution will be to eliminate the “remotely-operated” part of the equation.

  15. Misthiocracy
    KC Mulville: Oh heck, why not go all in?

    The next GOP presidential nominee will be CGI. He’ll be cute. Maybe even cuddly. He’ll care (really reallycare) about those voters who suffer from Politician Care Deficit Disorder (PCDD). Or she’ll be a woman. We’ll decide that before launch.

    Somebody’s been reading The Dark Knight Strikes Again.

    If not, then somebody should be reading it.

  16. Misthiocracy
    John Murdoch: Remote-controlled paparazzi, on the other hand, are a far more realistic threat. Over Thanksgiving weekend an animal rights group was using a remote-controlled drone helicopter to film a pigeon shoot in eastern Pennsylvania. The shoot was private, and held on private property–the animal rights types were flying the drone over public land (an adjacent park), but taking pictures. 

    The news reports indicated that this kind of video surveillance is legal–for police and for nosy citizens…

    …and THAT’S the problem.

    The problem isn’t the technology.  The problem is that the courts have ruled that it’s legal to monitor and photograph private property, as long as what is being monitored is outdoors.

    That’s why celebrity weddings can be photographed by nearby helicopters.

    As far as I’m concerned, there is no substantive legal difference between a manned helicopter and an unmanned helicopter.

    If you want to make it illegal to photograph all private property without a warrant, that’s something I could get behind.

    Just don’t complain when you’re charged with a crime for taking innocent snapshots of private houses, businesses, etc…

  17. ConservativeWanderer

    Since I am currently reading the prequel trilogy to Dune (the first one in order of internal chronology, at least), this reminds me strongly of the way the “thinking machines” took over.

    The thinking machines were always supposed to be subservient… until one planetary ruler, out of incompetence and laziness, let his thinking machines have too much authority, and the rest was what computer geeks would call a “cascade failure.”

    But such a thing would never happen to Obama. Oh, no. He monitors everything from the golf course.

  18. Rob Long
    C
    Nathan Harden: Rob, honestly, ask yourself: What’s scarier? Obama with a drone, or TMZ with a drone?

    In other words, would you rather be blown to bits by a flying robot, or photographed repeatedly through your bathroom window?

    Robotic rogue paparazzi–it’s only a matter of time. · 55 minutes ago

    Edited 54 minutes ago

    See, now you’re talking!

  19. Rob Long
    C
    Valiuth: Does no one read Assimov. The laws of Robotics will protect us. That is the answer to Skynet. It was like the first thing we thought of. 1: Cause no harm to humans.2: Cause no harm to yourself unless it would violate the first law.3: Obey all comands unless they violate the first and second laws. · 35 minutes ago

    Sure, I’ve read it.  And you’ve read it.  But have the robots read it?

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