WASHINGTON — A panel of experts at the New America Foundation on Tuesday explained how the world is being pushed more and more into a new age of killing machines due to rapidly progressing technology that even the United States has difficulty keeping up with.
“We have basically, I believe, lost the cutting edge in terms of technological development in this area,” said Dr. Mary Cummings, former U.S. Navy fighter pilot and director of the humans and automation laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“My students can over the weekend build a drone that’s more capable than many U.S. military personnel have access to and are even in the development pipeline,” Cummings said.
She argued that the U.S. is not investing as much as it should in autonomous weaponry, which is still in its infancy.
We’re not yet to the point where technology allows for truly killer weapons, according to Cummings, who said there’s still a lot of programming work to do in terms of artificial intelligence, such as overall perception capabilities and pattern recognition in both air and ground robots.
“We love to build guns,” she continued. “We sink money into these projects, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t, but what we should be doing is we should be at least matching the financial investment that we do in hardware into software if we are going to actually regain the lead in the software autonomous world.”
What’s more, the country’s most competent people who could potentially advance the military’s technological capabilities, according to Cummings, would rather work in the commercial industry for companies like Amazon and Google — whom she pointed out has just recently purchased Boston Dynamics, the “United States’ best robotic company.”
Not only did she express concern with the lack of investment in these technologies in the U.S. military, but the potential capabilities they might give its enemies.
She said that robotic technology, though seemingly futuristic, actually has a relatively low barrier of entry, which is why we are starting to see all sorts of groups worldwide gain new weaponry capabilities.
“There’s a lot of innovation happening in the commercial civilian world that the military is not keeping pace with, and I can promise you that at some point in the near future we will see a 3D-printed drone have an attack on U.S. forces,” she concluded.
Other panelists seemed to agree.
“The future of war is robotic because the present of war is robotic,” said Peter W. Singer, a senior strategist at New America and author who studies robotic and drone warfighters.
He pointed out that when the United States entered into Iraq and Afghanistan just over a decade ago, there were only a handful of drones in use. Singer said that in the same region today, however, there are around 7,000 U.S. drones in the air, and 12,000 on the ground used for things like camera work and finding roadside bombs.
He affirmed that such an increase in American drones is a trend that is representative of a natural progression in technology all around the world.
“This revolution is by no means just an American one. At least 87 other countries have used military robotics of some sort,” Singer wrote in an article Monday for CNN. “A number of nonstate actors have added robots to their wares as well, including most recently both sides of the Syrian civil war, as well as ISIS.”
“These robots, though, are just the start. If this was 100 years ago, they would be the equivalent of the Bristol TB 8, the first bomber plane, or the Mark I, the first tank used in battle. A host of changes awaits us. Their size, shape and form will move in wild and, for many, quite scary new directions.”