Briefly Noted

Shorter than a post. Longer than a Tweet.

Perfecting Ways to Kill Ourselves

Ghost’s canine bots are the scary older brother of every other dog robot you’ve ever seen, and a good reminder that we're getting increasingly efficient at finding ways to kill ourselves.

Don’t call it a dog robot. Instead, its makers refer to it as a Quadrupedal Unmanned Ground Vehicles, or ground drone if you want something that rolls a bit easier off the tongue. This particular model is called the Vision 60.

Vision 60 robots via Ghost Robotics on Twitter

Ghost’s Vision 60 robots will soon patrol Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. While the company says they don’t intend to arm these robots, other robots have been for years now:

“Robots were first utilized in ground combat during the war in Afghanistan, starting in 2002. Hermes was a 20-kilogram robot kitted out with cameras and, where needed, a grenade launcher and a 12-gauge shotgun.”

It all captures the imagination with images of a not so future dystopia floating through the head. The question isn’t whether armed robots will patrol land, sea and sky, it’s when they’ll become autonomous. The Army is working on autonomous tanks, the Navy is developing weapons capable autonomous ships, and the Air Force Skyborg program is doling out cash to develop autonomous combat drones.

Our current generation of “dumb” robots is already changing power dynamics on the battlefield.

For example, Azerbaijan just leveraged its drone force to defeat its stronger neighbor Armenia in their border war:

In a matter of months… [the conflict became] perhaps the most powerful example of how small and relatively inexpensive attack drones can change the dimensions of conflicts once dominated by ground battles and traditional air power.

It also highlighted the vulnerabilities of even sophisticated weapons systems, tanks, radars and surface-to-air missiles without specific drone defenses. And it has raised debate on whether the era of the traditional tank could be coming to an end.

The sci-fi future is very present. Iran’s media is leveraging the not so farfetched idea that one of their top scientists was killed by a machine gun controlled via satellite.

Of course, they have their reasons. Namely, putting the assassination in the realm of supernatural technology deflects citizen anger that foreign elements (read: Mossad) wander the country unimpeded.1

Still, why not? The technology the Iranians refer to exists. With the amount of money being poured into weaponizing machine learning and artificial intelligence, remote autonomous assassination systems can’t be far behind.

Somewhat related: A French military ethics committee says the country can develop “augmented soldiers”.

  • When Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated in November, Iran’s media reported he was killed in an ambush. A few weeks later they changed their story to say artificial intelligence, facial recognition and a satellite controlled machine gun shot him down.

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