Thursday, January 26, 2012

New American Hobby: Duck Accountability

Northrop-Grumman X-47B Drone (now $813 million) and Alfred E. Neuman, Accountability Expert

This story is from the LA Times - read for full context for specifics. Highlights from this fine article are:

• The Navy is testing an autonomous plane that will land on an aircraft carrier. The prospect of heavily armed aircraft screaming through the skies without direct human control is unnerving to many.

• The X-47B marks a paradigm shift in warfare, one that is likely to have far-reaching consequences. With the drone's ability to be flown autonomously by on board computers, it could usher in an era when death and destruction can be dealt by machines operating semi-independently.

• Says Noel Sharkey, a computer scientist and robotics expert, "Lethal actions should have a clear chain of accountability. This is difficult with a robot weapon. The robot cannot be held accountable. So is it the commander who used it? The politician who authorized it? The military's acquisition process? The manufacturer, for faulty equipment?"

Sharkey and others believe that autonomous armed robots should force the kind of dialogue that followed the introduction of mustard gas in World War I and the development of atomic weapons in World War II. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the group tasked by the Geneva Conventions to protect victims in armed conflict, is already examining the issue.

So, the question is as I introduced this topic: "Who would be accountable?" Sadly, in this day and age it appears that no one wants to be held accountable or force anyone to be held accountable in the event these drones would suddenly develop glitches and run wild and kill God knows how many before, what self-destruction, or what?

A simple, "What me worry" Alfred E. Neuman expression will not suffice, or at least it should not. But, will it?

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