Monday, June 01, 2015

Killer Robots and the Laws of War

Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor Chris Jenks, from the Southern Methodist University, Dedman School of Law, is speaking on "Crossing the Rubicon: the path to offensive autonomous weapons"

A representative for the Australian Red Cross introduced Professor Jenks and said how they educate in Australia about the Geneva Conventions.

Professor Jenks started out by pointing out that he was not talking about "drone" aircraft, such as the General Atomics Reaper, which is under remote human control. However, he pointed out that there are degrees of autonomy and commercial airliners are flown by computer most of the time. A military example presented was the "Boomerang counter sniper system" which will detect the direction of incoming fire. Professor Jenks described this then pointing a weapon at the source of fire and await the human operator to pull the trigger.

The Phalanx CIWS is used on Australian warships to protect them from cruse missiles and has an "autonomous mode". The Patriot SAM system in autonomous mode incorrectly shot down allied aircraft in two gulf wars. With these systems a human operator can stop the system firing, but may not have the time to do so and may make worse decisions that the automated system.

Professor Jenks pointed out that small autonomous multi-copters are being trialled by companies for small deliveries, but there are numerous safety problems with these and their military equivalents. He showed videos of experimental swarming 'copters. As the Professor points out the best defence against a swarm of 'copters is another swarm.

Professor Jenks then moved on to driverless cars, pointing out that the majority of car accidents are due to driver error. Self driving cars could reduce accidents. Curiously he illsitrated this with a video about someone getting off a train and into a driverless car. It wuld seem to me much safer for the traveller to stay on the train. In the car they still had the capability to override the automated system.

The issue of responsibility of the driver of an autonomous vehicle has already come to court in Australia. In 2003 a driver was let of a charge of using a mobile phone because he was driving a horse and cart. ;-)

More seriously,  Professor Jenks focused on hardware and did not discuss cyber-weapons. Currently there is concern about young people being indoctrinated into extremest causes online. Currently this is being done manually, with human operative doing the grooming. However, it would be possible to automate their process with a simple ELIZA Program which can befriend millions of young people and perhaps turn a few hundred into suicide bombers.

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