US Navy’s Killer Drones! Dolphins Get a Repreive

knifefish-drone-640x353Yes, it seems the once heralded killer-dolphins of the US Navy are finally getting the pink slips, and not a moment too soon! With the Cold War now behind us, the use of water mammals as hunter-seekers – a controversial practice at the best of times – finally seems to be coming to an end. In the new age, an age of robots and unmanned vehicles, it seems the Navy will be taking a page from the US Air Force and replacing them with drone like the Knifefish (pictured above).

Designed by the Navy not only as a fiscally responsible and humane replacement for Dolphins, this new drone was also inspired by recent demands from the Pentagon to deal with the problems arising from tensions overseas.  Earlier this year, when Iran threatened to close down the Straight of Hormuz – the waterway between Oman and Iran where 17 million barrels of oil pass through every day – the Pentagon became worried. If such a channel were to be mined, clearing it would be dangerous, time consuming and costly work.

seafoxAlready, they had considered using the the German-made Seafox, a 1.2 meter (4 foot), 45 kilogram (100-pound) semiautonomous drone that is controlled using fiber optic cable. Unfortunately, the limits of this model and the cost ($100,000 per drone) led many to conclude that a more cost-effective option was necessary. Hence, the Knifefish, a 5.8 meter (19 foot) 770 kilogram (1700 pound) robot that has an extended range and improved capabilities.

For starters, it is powered by lithium-ion batteries that give it an operational life of up to 16 hours. It also uses a low-frequency synthetic aperture sonar that can penetrate beneath a soft sea floor, giving it the ability to distinguish mines mines from submerged debris with better accuracy. Mines will be able to be fingerprinted in real time by using resonance patterns obtained during imaging and comparing them to known signatures.

Granted, this is not exactly a cheaper option than importing Seafoxes, but given the benefits to mine sweeping in the Persian Gulf and other potential areas of conflict, the Pentagon considers it a worthy investment. Eight units have been ordered and will be built jointly by General Dynamics and Bluefin Robotics, at a total cost of $20 million. Naval divers are still expected to carry out many mine clearing operations themselves, but drones will reduce dive frequency and associated risk.

The key here is that the Knifefish drones will be responsible for identifying and mapping underwater mines, not destroying them. Responsibility for performing such acts will no doubt be a matter for international bodies and courts to negotiate, applying martime law and international treaties to the mix. Also, the Knifefish is also being proposed as a means for private companies to monitor underwater pipelines and offshore oil rigs. So in addition to aiding in the protection against terrorism or naval blockages, the Knifefish could be used to ensure environmental safety.

Source: Extremetech.com

Planning For Judgement Day…

TerminatorSome very interesting things have been taking place in the last month, all of concerning the possibility that humanity may someday face the extinction at the hands of killer AIs. The first took place on November 19th, when Human Rights Watch and Harvard University teamed up to release a report calling for the ban of “killer robots”, a preemptive move to ensure that we as a species never develop machines that could one day turn against us.

The second came roughly a week later when the Pentagon announced that measures were being taken to ensure that wherever robots do kill – as with drones, remote killer bots, and cruise missiles – the controller will always be a human being. Yes, while Americans were preparing for Thanksgiving, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter signed a series of instructions to “minimize the probability and consequences of failures that could lead to unintended engagements,” starting at the design stage.

X-47A Drone
X-47A Drone, the latest “hunter-killer”

And then most recently, and perhaps in response to Harvard’s and HRW’s declaration, the University of Cambridge announced the creation of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER). This new body, which is headed up by such luminaries as Huw Price, Martin Rees, and Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, will investigate whether recent advances in AI, biotechnology, and nanotechnology might eventually trigger some kind of extinction-level event. The Centre will also look at anthropomorphic (human-caused) climate change, as it might not be robots that eventually kill us, but a swelteringly hot climate instead.

All of these developments stem from the same thing: ongoing developments in the field of computer science, remotes, and AIs. Thanks in part to the creation of the Google Neural Net, increasingly sophisticated killing machines, and predictions that it is only a matter of time before they are capable of making decisions on their own, there is some worry that machines programs to kill will be able to do so without human oversight. By creating bodies that can make recommendations on the application of technologies, it is hopes that ethical conundrums and threats can be nipped in the bud. And by legislating that human agency be the deciding factor, it is further hoped that such will never be the case.

The question is, is all this overkill, or is it make perfect sense given the direction military technology and the development of AI is taking? Or, as a third possibility, might it not go far enough? Given the possibility of a “Judgement Day”-type scenario, might it be best to ban all AI’s and autonomous robots altogether? Hard to say. All I know is, its exciting to live in a time when such things are being seriously contemplated, and are not merely restricted to the realm of science fiction.Blade_runner