It increasingly seems like armed, potentially lethal, artificial intelligence is going to be inevitable, for better or worse. Look no further than this video of a basic, retail-level drone that U.S. Military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) equipped with state-of-the-art A.I. that allows it to track and identify if people on the ground are armed or not.
According to The New York Times, which acquired the video as part of a lengthy piece on the state of A.I. warfare, the drone DARPA used can be purchased on Amazon this very minute. The programming that they equipped it with, however, was anything but, as it turned the drone into an autonomous, eerily smart, hunting machine.
Though the drone, which was tested in Camp Edwards, Massachusetts, occasionally has trouble (they report that it once mistook the minaret of a fake mosque on the testing grounds for an armed man), most of the time it’s right on the money. The A.I. uses a variation of human and facial recognition software that American intelligence agencies employ, and can spot and track moving vehicles, and spy on men hiding in the shadows.
Perhaps most impressively, it can tell if a person on the ground is armed or not. It’s so advanced that it could tell the difference between a man holding a gun and another about to take a shot… with a camera. The photographer was deemed a civilian.
The drone, which isn’t armed, can’t turn itself on and go flying off looking for targets by itself. Human controllers need to give it instructions. But once it’s been assigned, the A.I. is remarkably self-sufficient.
Army Major Christopher Orlowski, a program manager at DARPA, told The Times that the program “works with you. It’s like having another head in the fight.”
The army has previously said that it won’t make killer robots that have “true autonomy”, and the eagle-eyed autonomous drone, which DARPA named Bender, after the Futurama character, certainly hasn’t crossed that line. It is, however, an impressive effort, and further complicates an already complicated issue.
It might be pertinent to note, while we’re on the subject, that Futurama’s Bender frequently claimed he wanted to “kill all humans.”
Photos via 20th Century Fox, DARPA