New Report Cites Dangers of Autonomous Weapons

HughPickens.com writes: A new report written by a former Pentagon official who helped establish United States policy on autonomous weapons argues that autonomous weapons could be uncontrollable in real-world environments, where they are subject to design failure as well as hacking, spoofing and manipulation by adversaries. The report contrasts these completely automated systems, which have the ability to target and kill without human intervention, to weapons that keep humans “in the loop” in the process of selecting and engaging targets. “Anyone who has ever been frustrated with an automated telephone call support helpline, an alarm clock mistakenly set to ‘p.m.’ instead of ‘a.m.,’ or any of the countless frustrations that come with interacting with computers, has experienced the problem of ‘brittleness’ that plagues automated systems,” Mr. Scharre writes.

The United States military does not have advanced autonomous weapons in its arsenal. However, this year the Defense Department requested almost $1 billion to manufacture Lockheed Martin’s Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, which is described as a “semiautonomous” weapon. The missile is controversial because, although a human operator will initially select a target, it is designed to fly for several hundred miles while out of contact with the controller and then automatically identify and attack an enemy ship. As an alternative to completely autonomous weapons, the report advocates what it describes as “Centaur Warfighting.” The term “centaur” has recently come to describe systems that tightly integrate humans and computers. Human-machine combat teaming takes a page from the field of “centaur chess,” in which humans and machines play cooperatively on the same team. “Having a person in the loop is not enough,” says Scharre. “They can’t be just a cog in the loop. The human has to be actively engaged.”

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