The Global Post writes that in the near future, drones will be smarter and more “autonomous,” using algorithms to determine whom to terminate on the ground below. What could go wrong?
In all, a minimum of 2,800 people have died in no fewer than 375 US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia since 2004, according to a count by the UK Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Many hundreds of those killed were probably innocent bystanders.
Standard procedure is for one crewman to control the drone’s sensors, potentially including daytime and night-vision video cameras and high-resolution radars. The robot does essentially nothing without direct human input. But if a host of government and private research initiatives pan out, the next generation of drones will be more powerful, autonomous and lethal … and their human operators less involved.
“In the future we’re going to see a lot more reasoning put on all these vehicles,” Cummings says. For a machine, “reasoning” means drawing useful conclusions from vast amounts of raw data — say, scanning a bustling village from high overhead and using software algorithms to determine who is an armed militant based on how they look, what they’re carrying and how they’re moving.
Robots that possess the ability to reason might not need human beings to make so many decisions on their behalves. Drones have the potential to be more efficient without the burden of direct human control. “The ability to compute and then act at digital speed is another robotic advantage,” Peter Singer, an analyst with the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, wrote in his seminal book on robot warfare, Wired for War.