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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Killer Robots: The Soldiers that Never Sleep

By Simon Parker
Originally published July 16, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Likewise, a fully autonomous version of the Predator drone may have to decide whether or not to fire on a house whose occupants include both enemy soldiers and civilians. How do you, as a software engineer, construct a set of rules for such a device to follow in these scenarios? Is it possible to programme a device to think for itself? For many, the simplest solution is to sidestep these questions by simply requiring any automated machine that puts human life in danger to allow a human override. This is the reason that landmines were banned by the Ottawa treaty in 1997. They were, in the most basic way imaginable, autonomous weapons that would explode whoever stepped on them.

In this context the provision of human overrides make sense. It seems obvious, for example, that pilots should have full control over a plane's autopilot system. But the 2015 Germanwings disaster, when co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed the plane into the French Alps, killing all 150 passengers, complicates the matter. Perhaps, in fact, no pilot should be allowed to override a computer – at least, not if it means they are able to fly a plane into a mountainside?

“There are multiple approaches to trying to develop ethical machines, and many challenges,” explains Gary Marcus, cognitive scientist at NYU and CEO and Founder of Geometric Intelligence. “We could try to pre-program everything in advance, but that’s not trivial – how for example do you program in a notion like ‘fairness’ or ‘harm’?” There is another dimension to the problem aside from ambiguous definitions. For example, any set of rules issued to an automated soldier will surely be either too abstract to be properly computable, or too specific to cover all situations.

The entire article is here.

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