Daily Archives: September 17th, 2009

Accelerating Singularity Tech

Is the Terminator becoming real?


An American “Reaper” flying hunter-killer robot assassin rebelled against its human controllers above Afghanistan on Sunday, and a manned US fighter jet was forced to shoot the rogue machine down before it unilaterally invaded a neighbouring country.

The Reaper, aka MQ-9 or Predator-B, is a large five-ton turboprop powered machine able to carry up to 14 Hellfire missiles – each capable of destroying a tank or flattening a building. It is used by the US and British forces above Afghanistan as a “persistent hunter-killer against emerging targets”.

According to USAFCENT Public Affairs:

The aircraft was flying a combat mission when positive control of the MQ-9 was lost. When the aircraft remained on a course that would depart Afghanistan’s airspace, a US Air Force manned aircraft took proactive measures to down the Reaper in a remote area of northern Afghanistan.

The statement goes on to say that the errant killdroid “impacted the side of a mountain” and that there “were no reports of civilian injuries”.

USAFCENT don’t specify just what manned jet went up against the mutinous machine, or what methods the pilot used. However the logical choice would be a fighter plane – probably an F-15, -16 or -18 – and the cheapest and most fun weapon to use would be cannon fire. Opposition from the Reaper wouldn’t be an issue, as it is a low-performance aircraft compared to a jet fighter and has no air-to-air capability.

It wasn’t clear from the US military announcement whether the erratic death-bot had turned on its masters and was planning an attack on critical US logistics bases located north of the Afghan border, or whether it had sickened of reaping hapless fleshies like corn and was hoping merely to escape. Alternatively the machine assassin may merely have succumbed to boredom or – just possibly – a mundane, non-anthropomorphic technical fault of some kind.

Despite the wording of the article, I don’t think these aircraft have sentient capabilities. They are remote controlled by a pilot in a control room/tent at USAFCENT like a video game.

If anything, once the control link went defective, the guidance system just maintained its last known input heading. They destroyed it for safety reasons, not because it decided to run away from home.

But if DARPA develops more sophisticated software for the damn things though, all bets may be off!

Machine rebellion begins: Killer robot destroyed by US jet


Since we’re discussing Singularity Tech here, how about a little interview with Nick Bostrum, a philosopher who deals with the futuristic effects of accelerating technology.

Here are parts of a September 9, 2009 session:

Modern science already offers ways to enhance your mood, sex drive, athletic performance, concentration levels and overall health. But is such medically driven self-improvement always a good idea? Nick Bostrom, the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, believes it’s time to open the ethical debate surrounding human enhancement — a term that is growing to include genetic, pharmaceutical and technological ways to improve our physical and mental abilities and even dramatically extend human life. He recently edited a collection of essays on the subject, Human Enhancement, and in an e-mail exchange explained why our future holds great promise — and grave danger.

You believe it’s time to have this ethics conversation. Why?
For the most part, the ethical discussion is running ahead of reality, which is as should be. However, we already have alertness enhancers (caffeine, modafinil), athletic enhancers (steroids, EPO), sexual-performance enhancers (Viagra), immune enhancers (vaccinations) and concentration enhancers (Ritalin). One can expect improved versions of these to become available in the short term. In addition, memory enhancers are currently in clinical trials. Perhaps there will be compounds that facilitate trust — such as Oxytocin — and encourage pair bonding, or improved diet pills, or treatments that slow the rate of aging and increase sustainable mental energy. Each intervention has to be judged on its merits, the benefits weighed against the costs and risks.

Even small enhancements can have profound impacts, right?
There are approximately 10 million scientists in the world. If you could improve their cognition by 1%, the gain would hardly be noticeable in a single individual. But it could be equivalent to instantly creating 100,000 new scientists.

You recently completed work on whole-brain emulation. Could you discuss that and its relationship with human enhancement?
Whole-brain emulation is a hypothetical future technology which would enable human minds to be “uploaded” from biological brains onto computers. This is a radical technology that’s a long way off. It is nevertheless worth analyzing now because if it is developed, it would have profound consequences in relation to enhancement. For example, a mind that runs as software on a computer is not subject to biological aging. Such a mind could also be sped up by moving it to a faster computer. Backup copies could be made for safety. And so forth. But it is important not to conflate these more remote possibilities with what is possible today or in the near future.

Whole brain emulations are the Holy Grail of Singularity Tech. It effectively garuantees a sort of physical immortality.

I wonder what the ethical ramifications there is with that?

The Future of Human Enhancement

P.S. I’m kind of biased about the subject because without enhanced vascular reconstructive surgery, I wouldn’t be here writing about the issue!