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Musk-Backed 'Slaughterbots' Video Will Warn the UN About Killer Microdrones (space.com) 252

An anonymous reader quotes Space.com: A graphic new video posits a very scary future in which swarms of killer microdrones are dispatched to kill political activists and U.S. lawmakers. Armed with explosive charges, the palm-sized quadcopters use real-time data mining and artificial intelligence to find and kill their targets. The makers of the seven-minute film titled Slaughterbots are hoping the startling dramatization will draw attention to what they view as a looming crisis -- the development of lethal, autonomous weapons, that select and fire on human targets without human guidance.

The Future of Life Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mitigating existential risks posed by advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence, commissioned the film. Founded by a group of scientists and business leaders, the institute is backed by AI-skeptics Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, among others. The institute is also behind the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a coalition of non-governmental organizations which have banded together to call for a preemptive ban on lethal autonomous weapons... The film will be screened this week at the United Nations in Geneva during a meeting of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons... The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is hosting a series of meetings at this year's event to propose a worldwide ban on lethal autonomous weapons, which could potentially be developed as flying drones, self-driving tanks, or automated sentry guns.

"This short film is more than just speculation," says Stuart Russell, a U.C. Berkeley considered an expert in artificial intelligence.

"It shows the results of integrating and miniaturizing technologies we already have."
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Musk-Backed 'Slaughterbots' Video Will Warn the UN About Killer Microdrones

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  • Pointless (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Templer421 ( 4988421 ) on Saturday November 18, 2017 @10:04PM (#55579091)

    If it can be thought up it WILL BE built!

    • Re:Pointless (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Saturday November 18, 2017 @10:50PM (#55579233) Homepage
      Nuclear bombs which are highly cobalt salted to increase fallout have been thought of but the evidence is that no nuclear power has built them https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cobalt_bomb [wikipedia.org]. Similarly currently, we know how to make a massive number of different types of chemical weapons, but the vast majority of countries have none in their arsenals.
      • Re:Pointless (Score:5, Insightful)

        by eth1 ( 94901 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @02:56AM (#55579729)

        Nuclear bombs which are highly cobalt salted to increase fallout have been thought of but the evidence is that no nuclear power has built them https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cobalt_bomb [wikipedia.org]. Similarly currently, we know how to make a massive number of different types of chemical weapons, but the vast majority of countries have none in their arsenals.

        The weapons you mention are indiscriminate, and can easily cause just as many problems for those that deploy them as they do for the targets. There are very good reasons not to use or bother building them. The whole point of the drones is that they're cheap, surgical, and can be deployed with little to no consequence for the attackers.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by vivian ( 156520 )

          The worst thing about the drones is that even if they are only used by state actors with legitimate targets in mind, they still won't be 100% accurate.

          Errors in facial recognition will happen, or criteria will be set too broadly to ensure the target gets hit - but that well targeted killbot could just as easily get the wrong guy, which would be chalked up to "acceptable collateral damage".

          If its so hard to get OCR to be more than about 98% accurate, when its analysing a high resolution scan of stationary

        • That's a very valid point in this context. My intent was only to address the claim that if it can be built it will be built. I agree that there's a lot more incentive here than with the examples I gave.
      • Re:Pointless (Score:4, Insightful)

        by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @07:21AM (#55580297)

        currently, we know how to make a massive number of different types of chemical weapons, but the vast majority of countries have none in their arsenals.

        Tobacco kills 7 million people worldwide every year.

        Alcohol kills over 3 million people worldwide every year.

        Countless other harmful yet legal chemicals used in pesticides and food additives. Cancer affects 1 in 3 humans.

        Every battlefield humans have ever stepped on cannot even try to compare to these statistics.

        Perhaps we need to understand that chemical warfare is a lot more fucking subtle these days.

    • Given that you could make these swarms with COTS parts and mostly open-source software... yeah.

      Of course, drones that are capable of carrying a significant payload are still expensive. Right now this would very much be a 'one person per drone that gets through the defenses' kill tool. It's for assassinations, not terrorism.

      The real fun starts when someone realizes you can fly very small drones at high altitude and have them loiter until someone on the ground marks the target for them. There are already m

      • You are referring to HARM missiles, which are designed to home in on electromagnetic emissions, which for their application is radar emissions.
      • Of course, drones that are capable of carrying a significant payload are still expensive.

        A quadcopter that costs $120 to build from eBay parts can carry a kilo. The actual production cost is way lower. And you could deliver the same payload much cheaper with styrofoam, foamcore, or coroplast gliders. You'd need some way to launch them, but there's a variety of ways to do that. Balloon drop, say.

    • Auto shotgun manjacks loaded with birdshot for everybody's roofs.

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      Mosquito sized drones that give doses of LSD, sarin or anything else toxic.

  • by quonset ( 4839537 ) on Saturday November 18, 2017 @10:08PM (#55579107)

    Is this like Millennium Challenge [wikia.com] where swarms of small, fast boats were able to disable/sink numerous simulated ships? Or, during that same exercise, swarms of cruise missiles overwhelmed the fleet defenses?

    I guess, in one respect, at least someone's talking about it [theguardian.com].

    • A cruise missile is just about the worst thing you would have coming at ships. I mean, the "cruise" in cruise missile means it is a cross between a missile and an airplane! If you have a whole "swarm" of them, duh, that's bad, and the ships will sink.

      This is why when the US moves all our ships suddenly out of the Persian Gulf, Iran starts accusing of us preparing for war! Because in a war against an enemy who has cruise missiles, any nearby ships would sink.

      For America, this is a danger to sailors in a Navy

  • I'm wondering if this is the sort of technology that can be defeated with chicken wire.
    • I'm wondering if this is the sort of technology that can be defeated with chicken wire.

      Probably not. The video demonstrates the swarms defeating windows and other hard surfaces by having a subset of the swarm commit suicide so that the rest can penetrate. No doubt these bots could be designed to handle countermeasures like chicken wire with some similar approach.

    • I'm wondering if this is the sort of technology that can be defeated with chicken wire.

      I was wondering that, also, along with large butterfly nets, jumbo cans of silly string, large tennis racquets - now that would be fun, kind of like a lethal version of "pass the parcel" - but primarily I was wondering how long their batteries last, how well do they function in the rain, and how much facial recognition technology can you get into something the size of a matchbox? Enough to ensure that wearing a Guy Fawkes mask can keep you safe?

      On second thoughts, maybe not a Guy Fawkes mask - they strike m

    • Yeah, the gaps in chicken wire are way less than a nanoparsec, so it is definitely good for nanoscale defense!

  • why not a grape sized one that injects a neurotoxin?

    • by leonbev ( 111395 )

      Or insect sized, for that matter. Black Mirror already did the whole "killer swarm of robots" thing before with robot bees were reprogrammed to kill. This idea isn't new.

      Hell... why bother even building something new for this, when you can reprogram of modify something that already exists. Frankly, I'm suprised that a black hat hacker or terrorist hasn't already found a way to hack the autopilot system in a Model S in order to use it as a weapon.

      • Black Mirror did it. But Bugs did it first

      • >> Frankly, I'm suprised that a black hat hacker or terrorist hasn't already found a way to hack the autopilot system in a Model S in order to use it as a weapon.

        There are some who believe that vehicle hacks have already been militarized and used for targeted killings. Until someone leaks proof, that remains the province of conspiracy theory.

    • by jon3k ( 691256 )
      Wouldn't it be easier to just spray around some ricin?
      • targeted assassinations are a surgical way to shape the future, while mass murder is just a news item.

    • The size is a very relevant aspect. Firstly, you need some space to store all the required electronics. Secondly, you cannot generate enough force without reaction/inertial mass. Even the size in the video seems extremely small for what is expected to be accomplished. Even by forgetting about all the required space to store what is needed to more or less autonomously operate in a 3D space, it doesn't seem possible to shoot anything in a position to pass through a skull from a so small (and instable! The fac
      • you make a bunch of assertions without proof or reasons.

        Grape sized drones exist, that's why I specified the size. Neurotoxin that are lethal in microgram quantities exist. Ramming a person with a needle the width of a human hair or less mounted on a grape sized drone is a trivial feat to accomplish. Having a swarm of these attacking a crowd is just an engineering challenge of moderate difficulty.

        • you make a bunch of assertions without proof or reasons.

          There is no available data to perform the corresponding calculations, but I think that my statements can be intuitively confirmed. Just take any gun as a reference to understand the minimum size/weight requirements, notably higher than what is being displayed in the video. Without forgetting that you need all the 3D movement operating electronics. I am intentionally ignoring the AI part because, at this point, creating a bot able to move more or less autonomously as shown in the video is simply impossible.

          Grape sized drones exist, that's why I specified the size

          I

  • hmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by buddyglass ( 925859 ) on Saturday November 18, 2017 @10:29PM (#55579173)
    Seems pretty easy to thwart facial recognition. More concerning is the fact that most of us carry around a homing beacon in our front pocket.
    • Seems pretty easy to thwart facial recognition. More concerning is the fact that most of us carry around a homing beacon in our front pocket.

      Super easy, just wear a different mask every day of your life! See killer drone problem solved, easy-peesy.

  • by FritzTheCat1030 ( 758024 ) on Saturday November 18, 2017 @10:31PM (#55579181)
    Swarms of microdrones dispatched to kill U.S. politicians? I see no reason to rush through a preemptive ban on this technology.
    • Overrated. I'm not fond of the prospect of killer drones the size of hockey pucks flying around programmed to target political leaders, no matter what side of the aisle they sit on, thankyouverymuch.

  • A 20-guage handgun with small birdshot loads would do a number on a whole swarm of microdrones.

    Better yet, self-defense anti-drone microdrones to destroy any microdrones that approach a protected target....

    • by mentil ( 1748130 )

      Drones that can employ facial recognition can also employ firearm recognition, and avoid the projected trajectory of its projectiles. They can also spread out enough you wouldn't take out more than a couple per shot. If you're in public, you're unlikely to want to start shooting randomly, particularly if they're level with you. They could just wait until you're asleep, have your pants down, have to reload, or don't have your shotpistol on you. You're also assuming you see/hear them coming, which may not be

  • by TheNarrator ( 200498 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @12:38AM (#55579509)

    It's not that these things are more destructive than older weapons. It's that these things give the power of a targeted artillery strike to anyone for pennies of what nation state weapons cost, so it opens up WWI type levels of destructive capability to just about anyone on any budget. WWI really caught people off guard. People had no idea the level of destruction that was going to be unleashed by the industrial revolution. Likewise people have no idea the destructive power that's going to be unleashed by the AI revolution.

    • by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @01:23AM (#55579605)

      Forget artillery strikes. What's really gonna stir shit up is when drone attacks allow for anonymous murder. What society could cope with that? It's gonna be like handing a Death Note to every citizen on Earth, only you won't need to know their name. I COULD see a ban on murder-drones actually working though, as after the first time a crime family gets whacked, the black market won't touch them; people will go after individual sellers as well. Wearing a mask in public might become the norm... until voice-recognition is used instead.

      • I imagine that organized crime would see it as bad for business. All those newly out of work hired killers won't be happy either. In the dystopian future, any sociopathic jerk with a few bucks can be a mafia boss and have a gang of robot killers working for him. I guess you could say that the invention of affordable firearms was a similar disruption, but civilization made it through that. Still, it's going to be a really gruesome couple of years once some factory in god knows where starts spitting these

    • As well as being low-cost, think about future defibrilator drones that will understand when someone falls down and needs them, flies to them, and administers the life saving treatment, or drones that follow diabetics around with an auto-injector. Give those drones the wrong drug, or the wrong settings, and they kill. Just like a hammer can hit the head of a nail or a person. Or send a bomb in parcel delivered by amazon delivery drone. I dont understand how to implement a ban on killer drones that doesnt ta
  • by lucm ( 889690 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @12:51AM (#55579539)

    swarms of killer microdrones are dispatched to kill political activists and U.S. lawmakers

    I know that deadly scenario is scary and romantic, but really, what is more likely to happen is swarms of microdrones delivering chicken mcnuggets and tubes of k-y, not killing political activists.

  • If the US went to war with China our only hope would be nuclear war. There are simply so many Chinese that we would be dwarfed by their numbers. The US would have no good choice other than robotic warfare. Therefore I want my bots to be stronger, meaner and more in numbers as well as quantities to prevent a really horrific war. There are also huge monetary concerns. What does it cost for one prison guard? Lethal bots that prevented escapes would save us a king's ransom. Your local convenience store and
    • by gtall ( 79522 )

      Hmm....so you are saying the Chinese are busy building ships to get them here? Those bastards!!

  • WTF is this ad? Net Neutrality is still in danger. Click here and get a 2nd phone line for $25? Slashdot you're letting me down.
  • Can we get a link to a website that doesn't waste my bandwidth by auto-loading and auto-playing videos I have no intention to watch?

  • by Max_W ( 812974 )
    More than 1.2 million people are killed every year in traffic accidents http://www.who.int/gho/road_sa... [who.int] , about 3 times more badly wounded. These are the figures of a WW3.

    The situation will only worsen since cars become silent, overpowered, oversized, overweight, and capable to pick up a high speed almost instantly.

    It is not only traffic accidents, terrorists got it too. Overpowered cars and automatic guns are being used to attack innocent people in reality. However instead of regulating really harm
    • I did some calculations a while ago. As of last year (or was it the year before?), the ten-year average annual deaths for terrorist attack in the US is less than that for lightning strikes, but greater than that for sharks.

      In Australia, the sharks scored more kills than the terrorists.

      The point here is that people are absolutely awful at estimating risk. They are highly biased to ignore the common, and consider only the exceptional.

  • I tried my hand at writing science fiction with this idea years ago.

    Inspired by recent advances in solar power and energy storage, a young scientist invents insect-sized drones that control pests on crops by piercing them. It's an new, environmentally friendly, chemical-free way of farming: mechanical pesticide. The some bright spark at the pentagon realizes that, in sufficient numbers, the technology can be a new, 4th class of weapon of mass destruction, one that the US is free to openly develop and use

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