[drone-list] Defense Science Board urges greater autonomy for unmanned systems

Gregory Foster gfoster at entersection.org
Thu Sep 6 08:40:03 PDT 2012

   Secrecy News (Sep 6) - "Greater Autonomy for Unmanned Military Systems
   Urged" (cited in full)
   The Department of Defense should focus on increasing the autonomy of
   drones and other unmanned military systems, a new report from the
   Defense Science Board said.
   DoD should "more aggressively use autonomy in military missions," the
   Board report said, because currently "autonomy technology is being
   underutilized."  See [2]"The Role of Autonomy in DoD Systems," Defense
   Science Board, dated July 2012 and released last week.
   "Autonomy" in this context does not mean "computers making independent
   decisions and taking uncontrolled action."  The Board is not calling
   for the immediate development of [3]Skynet at this time.  Rather,
   autonomy refers to the automation of a particular function within
   programmed limits.  "It should be made clear that all autonomous
   systems are supervised by human operators at some level," the [4]report
   Increased autonomy for unmanned military systems "can enable humans to
   delegate those tasks that are more effectively done by computer... thus
   freeing humans to focus on more complex decision making."
   "However, the true value of these systems is not to provide a direct
   human replacement, but rather to extend and complement human capability
   by providing potentially unlimited persistent capabilities, reducing
   human exposure to life threatening tasks, and with proper design,
   reducing the high cognitive load currently placed on
   But all of that is easier said than done.
   "Current designs of autonomous systems, and current design methods for
   increasing autonomy, can create brittle platforms" that are subject to
   irreversible error.  There are also "new failure paths associated with
   more autonomous platforms, which has been seen in friendly fire
   fatalities.... This brittleness, which is resident in many current
   designs, has severely retarded the potential benefits that could be
   obtained by using advances in autonomy."
   The Defense Science Board [5]report discusses the institutional
   challenges confronting a move toward increasing autonomy, including the
   obstacles posed by proprietary software.  It offers an extended
   discussion of conflict scenarios in which the enemy employs its own
   autonomous systems against U.S. forces.  The authors describe China's
   "alarming" investment in unmanned systems, and encourage particular
   attention to the relatively neglected topic of the vulnerability of
   unmanned systems.
   The [6]report includes some intriguing citations, such as a volume on
   [7]"Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots," and presents
   numerous incidental observations of interest.  For example:
   "Big data has evolved as a major problem at the National Geospatial
   Intelligence Agency (NGA).  Over 25 million minutes of full motion
   video are stored at NGA."
   But new sensors will produce "exponentially more data" than full motion
   video, and will overwhelm current analytical capabilities.
   "Today nineteen analysts are required per UAV orbit [i.e. per 24 hour
   operational cycle].  With the advent of Gorgon Stare, ARGUS, and other
   Broad Area Sensors, up to 2,000 analysts will be required per orbit."
   The government "can't hire enough analysts or buy enough equipment to
   close these gaps."
   HT [8]@saftergood,
Gregory Foster || [9]gfoster at entersection.org
@gregoryfoster <> [10]http://entersection.com/


   1. http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/2012/09/dsb_autonomy.html
   2. http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/dod/dsb/autonomy.pdf
   3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skynet_%28Terminator%29
   4. http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/dod/dsb/autonomy.pdf
   5. http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/dod/dsb/autonomy.pdf
   6. http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/dod/dsb/autonomy.pdf
   7. http://books.google.com/books?id=rIsJ_QXDdEUC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
   8. http://twitter.com/saftergood
   9. mailto:gfoster at entersection.org
  10. http://entersection.com/

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