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The old is new again, this time with bots

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — John Robb updates Sun Tzu ]

SPEC DQ Sun Tzu Robb

Two paras from John‘s post:

Autonomous robots and software bots (collectively “bots”) deeply penetrate the opponent’s territory both physically (territory) and logically (their computer systems). Most would be hidden and remain dormant until activation. Some would actively or passively map opponent networks, analyze them for vulnerabilities, and take advantage of opportunities for stealthy exploitation.

When activated, these forward bots conduct a coordinated attack from inside the opponent’s territory and systems. Damaging, degrading, or taking control of computer systems and physical infrastructure. Advanced robots would emerge from stealth to kinetically engage with opponent forces or physically seize points (airports, ports, etc.) to enable the rapid entry of conventional forces.

Oh, and for additional points, it’s “a very zen concept”!!

Sunday surprise: nunchucks and katana

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — weaponry in advertising and robotics — just some light weekend viewing ]

You may have seen these already — they go nicely together, I think, though I might be hard pressed to say why.



Further reading:

  • The Bruce Lee Ping Pong Video. Cool, But Not Real
  • Samurai Robot Challenges Human Sword Master
  • Thoughts on CNAS “Preparing for War in the Robotic Age”

    Friday, January 24th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    My reading at CNAS, which had once been frequent, declined with the waning of the Abu Muqawama blog. While formerly I usually scanned through CNAS reports on a regular basis after reading what Exum and his commenters had to say, toward the end I only visited when Adam and Dan had new posts up.

    At the gentle nudging of Frank Hoffman, I decided to read the latest CNAS product;  I’m pleased to say with the release of ” 20YY:Preparing for War in the Robotic Age by Robert Work ( CNAS CEO and former Undersecretary of the Navy) and Shawn Brimley (CNAS Executive V.P. and former NSC Strategic Planning Director) CNAS has rolled out an intellectually provocative analysis on an important emerging aspect of modern warfare.

    Work and Brimley have done a number of things well and did them concisely (only 36 pages) in “20YY”:

    • A readable summary of the technological evolution of modern warfare in the past half century while distinguishing between military revolutions,  military-technical revolution and the the 80’s-90’s  American “revolution in military affairs“.
    • .
    • A more specific drill-down on the history of guided munitions and their game-changing importance on the relationship between offense and defense that flourished after the Gulf War. 
    • .
    • An argument that the proliferation of technology and information power into the hands unfriendly states and non-state actors is altering the strategic environment for the United States, writing:
    • .
    • “Meanwhile in the 13 years since the last 20XX game, foreign nation-state C41, surveillance and reconaissance systems, and guided munitions-battle network capabilities have become increasingly capable.  Indeed, these systems now form the very robust and advanced “anti-access and area denial”  (A2/AD) capabilities envisioned in the 20XX game series. The effect has been that the dominance enjoyed by the United States in the late 1990’s/2000’s in the area of high end sensors, guided weaponry, space and cyberspace systems and stealth technology has started to erode. Moreover the erosion is now occurring at an accelerated rate.”
    • .
    • Positing the near-future global proliferation of unmanned, autonomous, networked and swarmed robotic systems replacing( and leveraged by diminishing numbers of) expensive manpower and piloted platforms on the battlefield and altering the age-old relationship between a nation’s population base and the traditional calculation of its potential military power.
    • .
    • An argument that “warfare in the robotic age” will mean substantial to fundamental shifts in strategic calculation of deterrence, coercion, the use of force, operational doctrines and the evolution of military technology and that the United States must prepare for this eventuality.

    This report is well worth reading.  In my view there are some areas that require further exploration and debate than can be found in “20YY”. For example:

    • While the power of economics as a driver of unmanned, autonomous weapons is present, the implications are vastly understated. Every nation will face strategic investment choices between opting for simple and cheaper robotic platforms in mass and “pricing out” potential rivals by opting for “class” – fewer but more powerful, sophisticated and versatile robotic systems.
    • .
    • The scale of robot swarms are limited primarily by computing power and cost of manufactureand could be composed of robots from the size of a fly to that of a zeppelin. As John Robb has noted, this could mean billions of drones.
    • .
    • The US defense acquisition system and the armed services are ill-suited for fast and inexpensive introduction of robotic warfare technology – particularly if they threaten to displace profitable legacy platforms – as was demonstrated by the CIA rather than the USAF taking the lead on building a drone fleet.  Once foreign states reach parity, they may soon exceed us technologically in this area. A future presidential candidate may someday warn of  a growing ” robot gap” with China.
    • .
    • Reliance on robotic systems as the center of gravity of your military power carries a terrific risk if effective countermeasures suddenly render them useless at the worst possible time (“Our…our drone swarm….they’ve turned around…they are attacking our own troops….Aaaaahhhh!”)
    • .
    • The use of robotic systems to indiscriminately and autonomously kill is virtually inevitable much like terrorism is inevitable. As with WMD, the weaker the enemy, the less moral scruple they are likely to have in employing lethal robotic technology.
    • .
    • For that matter, the use of robotic systems by an authoritarian state against its own citizens to suppress insurgency, peaceful protest or engage in genocide against minority groups is also highly probable. Is there much doubt how the Kim Family regime in north Korea or Assad in Syria would make use of an army of “killer robots” if they feel their hold on power was threatened?
    • .
    • International Law is not currently configured for genuinely autonomous weapons with Ai operating systems. Most of the theorists and certainly the activists on the subject of  “killer robots” are more interested in waging lawfare exclusively against American possession and use of such weapons than in stopping their proliferation to authoritarian regimes or contracting realistic covenants as to their use.

    All in all “20YY:Preparing for War in the Robotic Age provides much food for thought.

    Foust on “False Fears of Autonomous Weapons”

    Friday, December 21st, 2012

    Hat tip for a strong recommendation from Adam Elkus:

    Josh Foust has a very sensible piece up about the seemingly endless furor about “killer drones” (we never called our warplanes “Killer F-16’s” or guided weapons “killer cruise missiles”).

    The false fear of autonomous weapons 

    ….Many of the processes that go into making lethal decisions are already automated. The intelligence community (IC) generates around 50,000 pages of analysis each year, culled from hundreds of thousands of messages. Every day analysts reviewing targeting intelligence populate lists for the military and CIA via hundreds of pages of documents selected by computer filters and automated databases that discriminate for certain keywords.

    In war zones, too, many decisions to kill are at least partly automated. Software programs such as Panatir collect massive amounts of information about IEDs, analyze without human input, and spit out lists of likely targets. No human could possibly read, understand, analyze, and output so much information in such a short period of time.

    Automated systems already decide to fire at targets without human input, as well. The U.S. Army fields advanced counter-mortar systems that track incoming mortar rounds, swat them out of the sky, and fire a return volley of mortars in response without any direct human input. In fact, the U.S. has employed similar (though less advanced) automated defensive systems for decades aboard its navy vessels. Additionally, heat-seeking missiles don’t require human input once they’re fired – on their own, they seek out and destroy the nearest intense heat source regardless of identity.

    It’s hard to see how, in that context, a drone (or rather the computer system operating the drone) that automatically selects a target for possible strike is morally or legally any different than weapons the U.S. already employs.


    Most of the anti-drone arguments are a third hand form of opposition to US foreign policy or Counterterrorism policy for a variety of reasons, sometimes tactical and strategic, but mostly just political. Saying you are against inhuman drone strikes sounds a hell of a lot better than honestly saying that you would be against any kind of effective use of military force by the US against al Qaida and the Taliban in any and all circumstances. I can’t imagine Human Rights Watch would be happier if the US were using F-16’s and B-52’s instead.

    Or commandos with small arms for that matter.

    Book Review: Kill Decision

    Saturday, October 6th, 2012

    Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez 

    Shlok Vaidya did an early review of Kill Decision here previously. I finally have caught up to Shlok and I’m ready to add my two cents without giving away any spoilers:

    First, I enjoyed the book. Kill Decision is a tense, fast-moving,  page-turner. As I tend to read books at night before bed, Kill Decision kept me up later than I should have been and I was reluctant to put it down. I fully agree with Shloky that this book is a movie waiting to happen.

    Secondly, the plot is all too plausible. While there is some of the normal deus ex machina in action-thriller novels of this kind, readers who are knowledgeable about the defense and intel worlds will have the uncomfortable feeling that while the first lethal autonomous drones would not operate on exactly the clever and disturbing premises outlined by Suarez , they will be within shouting distance. And with all the same dangerous societal implications.

    Third, like William Gibson, Daniel Suarez excels as a conceptual novelist – the writer as futurist ( a near-term futurist in the latter case) with his labor of love going into theme, setting and plot. Suarez creates dynamic hooks for his books. Unlike Gibson, character development is still a weakness for Suarez. Of all the characters in Kill Decision, only Odin, the SOF covert operative, projects real depth and motivational development; he is the Sun around which the other, mostly one-dimensional characters, orbit – including the book’s nominal protagonist. The good news is that you’ll be so wrapped up in the flow of the story that you won’t much care. I can also commend Suarez for having a George R.R. Martin kind of willingness to ruthlessly terminate his characters with extreme prejudice because it kept me wondering until the very end as to who would survive.

    Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez is strongly recommended.

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