Drones that kill on their own

On the horizon of military technology:  Drones that “decide” on their own whom to kill:

One afternoon last fall at Fort Benning, Ga., two model-size planes took off, climbed to 800 and 1,000 feet, and began criss-crossing the military base in search of an orange, green and blue tarp.

The automated, unpiloted planes worked on their own, with no human guidance, no hand on any control.

After 20 minutes, one of the aircraft, carrying a computer that processed images from an onboard camera, zeroed in on the tarp and contacted the second plane, which flew nearby and used its own sensors to examine the colorful object. Then one of the aircraft signaled to an unmanned car on the ground so it could take a final, close-up look.

Target confirmed.

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. . . .

Research into autonomy, some of it classified, is racing ahead at universities and research centers in the United States, and that effort is beginning to be replicated in other countries, particularly China.

“Lethal autonomy is inevitable,” said Ronald C. Arkin, the author of “Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots,” a study that was funded by the Army Research Office.

Arkin believes it is possible to build ethical military drones and robots, capable of using deadly force while programmed to adhere to international humanitarian law and the rules of engagement. He said software can be created that would lead machines to return fire with proportionality, minimize collateral damage, recognize surrender, and, in the case of uncertainty, maneuver to reassess or wait for a human assessment.

In other words, rules as understood by humans can be converted into algorithms followed by machines for all kinds of actions on the battlefield.

via A future for drones: automated killing – The Washington Post.

The article alludes to “ethical” and “legal” issues that need to be worked out with this particular technology.  Like what?  Is automating war to this extent a good idea?  Does this remove human responsibility and guilt for taking a particular human life?  Might this kind of technology develop, eventually, into a military without actual human beings in overt combat?  How could this be abused?

Kamikaze update

You know that recent post about Heather Penney, the female pilot who was ordered to take down Flight 93 on 9/11 by ramming into it in a suicide attack?  Well, it gets even worse.   As far as she knew, her FATHER, a United pilot working out of the east coast, might have been flying that plane!

See  F-16 pilot was ready to down plane her father piloted on 9/11 – The Washington Post.

I asked what was disturbing about all of this, but some of you couldn’t seem to tell what I might be referring to, in some cases going so far as to laud her heroic willingness to sacrifice her life. Here are some things that bother me:

(1)  Our military was going to take down an airliner, killing all of these innocent Americans, which was what the terrorists were planning to do.  If the purpose was to defend the White House or the Capitol building, evacuate those structures.  But the military is supposed to defend their countrymen, not kill them.

(2)  Ordering a suicide attack is monstrous in itself.

(3)  If we have jet fighters ready to defend us, why were they unarmed?  What good are military aircraft without weapons?  Were we really so unprepared, not only to obtain intelligence of a terrorist attack, but also to counter a military attack against our country?

(4)  Yes, I’m bothered by women in combat.  That they are in airplanes, far above the fray, dropping bombs and shooting missiles, is supposed to make a difference?  Women have the power to bring new life into the world.  They shouldn’t be put in the position of ending people’s lives.

(5)  This woman would have not only killed strangers, but her own father?

 

The 9/11 attacks ten years later

Sunday is the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. So we need to observe the occasion. And yet I find myself experiencing grief fatigue, outrage fatigue, war fatigue. I wish we could get beyond 9/11, put it behind us. Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, could we downgrade from threat level orange and keep our shoes on in the airport? I do realize we must remain ever vigilant because the threat remains. And I do agree that we should never forget what happened, honoring those who died, those who helped the victims, and the soldiers that enacted our national retribution. Still, I can’t help my post 9/11 exhaustion.

So where do we stand 10 years after the attacks?

Has “everything changed,” as was widely said at the time?

Does it take an attack like that to give us a sense of national unity? Why didn’t that last longer than it did?

What is the big picture, historical, and cultural impact of those plane crashes?

Endless war

We have entered an era, according to Greg Jaffe, of endless war:

In previous decades, the military and the American public viewed war as an aberration and peace as the norm.

Today, radical religious ideologies, new technologies and cheap, powerful weapons have catapulted the world into “a period of persistent conflict,” according to the Pentagon’s last major assessment of global security. “No one should harbor the illusion that the developed world can win this conflict in the near future,” the document concludes.

By this logic, America’s wars are unending and any talk of peace is quixotic or naive. The new view of war and peace has brought about far-reaching changes in agencies such as the CIA, which is increasingly shifting its focus from gathering intelligence to targeting and killing terrorists. Within the military the shift has reshaped Army bases, spurred the creation of new commands and changed what it means to be a warrior.

On the home front, the new thinking has altered long-held views about the effectiveness of military power and the likelihood that peace will ever prevail.

In the decades after Vietnam, the U.S. military was almost entirely focused on training for a big, unthinkable war with the Soviet Union. There were small conflicts, such as Grenada, Panama and the Persian Gulf War, but the United States was largely at peace.

After the Soviet collapse and America’s swift Gulf War victory, the military bet that it would be able to use big weapons and vastly better technology to bludgeon enemies into a speedy surrender. It envisioned a future of quick, decisive and overwhelming victories.

A decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan has crushed the “smug certainties” of that earlier era, said Eliot Cohen, a military historian who served in the George W. Bush administration.

via A decade after the 9/11 attacks, Americans live in an era of endless war – The Washington Post.

Victory in Libya

It looks like the Libyan rebels, with the help of NATO planes and American bombs, have overthrown the Gaddafi regime.  All that remains is to find the guy.   No Americans were killed, the Libyans themselves did the heavy lifting to free themselves, and the terrorist-supporting dictator who has been the West’s nemesis for decades is out of power.  Does this vindicate President Obama’s stated policy of “leading from behind”?  You would think conservatives would celebrate an American victory.  And that liberals  would celebrate one of the administration’s success stories.   But we aren’t hearing much from anyone.   Not even the British and the French, who were the ones who went into combat.  Is everyone afraid of another “mission accomplished” moment, after which everything turns very bad?  Is it that Republicans don’t want to give the President any credit, while the Democrats, being peaceniks at heart, are ashamed of President Obama’s war?  Or is everyone so sick of all of these post-9/11 wars that the martial spirit has died out?

A Civil War soldier’s letter to his wife

I am going to make you cry.  To mark the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run, a.k.a. The Battle of Manassas, the Washington Post wrote a story about and reprinted the letter written by Maj. Sullivan Ballou to his wife a week before he was killed in that battle.  It shows a man highly devoted to his different and sometimes conflicting vocations as husband, father, soldier, citizen, and Christian:

July the 14th, 1861

Washington D.C.

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure—and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows—when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children—is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar—that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the brightest day and in the darkest night—amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours—always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.
Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God’s blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.

Sullivan

From Wikipedia

For background details see Civil War soldier’s heartbreaking farewell letter was written before death at Bull Run – The Washington Post.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X