Proverbs for Paranoids: You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.
– Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow
What if the Master has a steel face and looks something like the DARPA Atlas in the image above? When we discover the Master is a mask for the economic masters one need not worry about tickling any creatures whatsoever, more than likely they will be tickling you soon enough. That’s what I thought the first time I saw the White House BRAIN. Yes, yes… the new Manhattan Project of the decade or millennia is to unlock the secrets in the your skull – that three-pound loaf of grey matter that swims behind your eyes recreating moment by moment the words you are reading in the blips and bits of electronic light from your screen at this very moment. In the bold print we hear about the wonders that will be accomplished through such research: “…a bold new research effort to revolutionize our understanding of the human mind and uncover new ways to treat, prevent, and cure brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.” All good, of course, nothing wrong with solving the terrible problems of the brain that have brought so much devastation and suffering to millions. But then one looks down the page and notices where the major portion of the funding is going and realizes … hmm… military (DARPA) expenditure: $50 million for understanding the dynamic functions of the brain and demonstrating breakthrough applications based on these insights.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the central research and development organization for the Department of Defense (DoD). It manages and directs selected basic and applied research and development projects for U.S Department of Defense and pursues research and technology where risk and payoff are both very high and where success may provide dramatic advances for traditional military roles and missions. DARPA sponsors such things as robotic challenges(here). Their mission statement tells it all:
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was established in 1958 to prevent strategic surprise from negatively impacting U.S. national security and create strategic surprise for U.S. adversaries by maintaining the technological superiority of the U.S. military.
To fulfill its mission, the Agency relies on diverse performers to apply multi-disciplinary approaches to both advance knowledge through basic research and create innovative technologies that address current practical problems through applied research. DARPA’s scientific investigations span the gamut from laboratory efforts to the creation of full-scale technology demonstrations in the fields of biology, medicine, computer science, chemistry, physics, engineering, mathematics, material sciences, social sciences, neurosciences and more. As the DoD’s primary innovation engine, DARPA undertakes projects that are finite in duration but that create lasting revolutionary change.
Lasting “revolutionary change”? At a Pentagon briefing, Arati Prabhakar, the current head of Darpa, announced the release of a “framework” that spells out the agency’s role. “Our mission is unchanged, in 55 years, it has been and will be to prevent and create technological surprise,” she said, in announcing the new plan. “But of course the world in which we do that has changed many times since 1958.” (BBC) Ah, not to worry, they just want to create “technological surprise”. Whoosh… I thought it was much more serious than that…! Who am I kidding, of course it’s serious…
As the DSO (Defense Sciences Office) tells us their department develops and leverages neurophysiological sensors, neuro-imaging, cognitive science and molecular biology to provide support, protection and tactical advantage to warfighters who perform under the most challenging operational conditions. DSO is discovering and applying advances in neuroscience to improve warfighters’ resilience to stress, increase the rate and quality of learning and training, defend against injury and enhance our warfighters’ ability to exert influence. DSO’s advances in neuroscience are leading to better sensors and novel neuro-morphic system architectures in the fields of computing, robotics and information integration, providing solutions to challenging issues. By harnessing the capabilities of neuroscience and fusing them with cutting edge electronics and the social sciences, DSO is bringing a new level of efficiency and situational awareness to provide warfighters with reliable information, training and tools to execute their missions.(see) “Exert influence”: is that a euphemism for command and conquer or what?
Welcome to the new militarization of the American Warrior as Cyborg. The future wave of bioengineering towards the Singularity… As we discover the DARPA SyNAPSE Program seeks “to build a new kind of computer with similar form and function to the mammalian brain. Such artificial brains would be used to build robots whose intelligence matches that of mice and cats.” The first phase of 5 is “designing a multi-chip system capable of emulating 1 million neurons and 1 billion synapses.” As they explain the program:
Over six decades, modern electronics has evolved through a series of major developments (e.g., transistors, integrated circuits, memories, microprocessors) leading to the programmable electronic machines that are ubiquitous today. Owing both to limitations in hardware and architecture, these machines are of limited utility in complex, real-world environments, which demand an intelligence that has not yet been captured in an algorithmic-computational paradigm. The SyNAPSE program seeks to break the programmable machine paradigm and define a new path forward for creating useful, intelligent machines.
The vision for the DARPA SyNAPSE program is the enabling of electronic neuromorphic machine technology that is scalable to biological levels. Programmable machines are limited not only by their computational capacity, but also by an architecture requiring human-derived algorithms to both describe and process information from their environment. In contrast, biological neural systems autonomously process information in complex environments by automatically learning relevant and probabilistically stable features and associations. Since real world systems are always many body problems with infinite combinatorial complexity, neuromorphic electronic machines would be preferable in a host of applications – but useful and practical implementations do not yet exist.(here)
The final phase of the program will entail a deliverable metric that is the fabrication of a multi-chip neural system of 108 neurons (100 million) and install this in a robot that performs at cat level. Estimated to begin between late 2013 and late 2015. Estimated completion date, late 2014 to late 2017.
Is the singularity near? The Atlas Robot (image at top of page) was unveiled recently:
“The Virtual Robotics Challenge was a proving ground for teams’ ability to create software to control a robot in a hypothetical scenario. The DRC Simulator tasks were fairly accurate representations of real world causes and effects, but the experience wasn’t quite the same as handling an actual, physical robot,”
said Gill Pratt, program manager for the DARPA Robotics Challenge. “Now these seven teams will see if their simulation-honed algorithms can run a real machine in real environments. And we expect all teams will be further refining their algorithms, using both simulation and experimentation.”
“We have dramatically raised the expectations for robotic capabilities with this Challenge, and brought together a diverse group of teams to compete,” said Pratt. “The progress the Track A teams have made so far is incredible given the short timeline DARPA put in place. From here out, it’s going to be a race to the
DRC Trials in December, and success there just means the qualifying teams will have to keep on sprinting to the finish at the DRC Finals in 2014.”
With the parallel development of robotics and the advances in neuro-morphic technologies what comes next? As I looked at these eerie images I was reminded of an all too real Terminator scenario… in a recent NY Times article Already Anticipating ‘Terminator’ Ethics we read:
Advocates in the Pentagon make the case that these robotic systems keep troops out of harm’s way, and are more effective killing machines. Some even argue that robotic systems have the potential to wage war more ethically — which, of course, sounds like an oxymoron— than human soldiers do. Proponents suggest that machines can kill with less collateral damage, and are less likely to commit war crimes.
The discussion about robots and ethics came during this year’s Humanoids technical conference. At the conference, which focused on the design and application of robots that appear humanlike, Ronald C. Arkin delivered a talk on “How to NOT Build a Terminator,” picking up where Asimov left off with his fourth law of robotics — “A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.”
“We all know that that is motivated by urban seek-and-destroy,” Dr. Arkin said, only half sardonically adding, “Oh no, I meant urban search-and-rescue.”
He then showed an array of clips from sci-fi movies, including James Cameron’s 1984 “The Terminator,” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Each of the clips showed evil robots performing tasks that Darpa has specified as part of its robotics challenge. Clearing debris, opening doors, breaking through walls, climbing ladders and stairs, and riding in utility vehicles — all have “dual use” implications, meaning that they can be used constructively or destructively, depending on the intent of the designer, Dr. Akin showed.
Dr. Arkin’s point is that humans are still very much “in the loop” when it comes to smart weapons, so human designers cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility for the consequences of their inventions.
“If you would like to create a Terminator, then I would contend: Keep doing what you are doing, because you are creating component technologies for such a device,” he said. “There is a big world out there, and this world is listening to the consequences of what we are creating.” – by JOHN MARKOFF
As one robotic ethicist said recently:
Robots are set to change the way that wars are fought by providing flexible “stand-ins” for combatants. They provide the ultimate distance targeting that allows warriors to do their killing from the comfort of an armchair in their home country—even thousands of miles away from the action. Robots are developing as a new kind of fighting method different from what has come before. Unlike missile or other projectiles, robots can carry multiweapon systems into the theater of operations, and act flexibly once in place. Eventually, they may be able to operate as flexibly as human combatants, without risk to the lives of their operators that control them. However, as we discussed, there is no such thing as risk-free warfare. Apart from the moral risks discussed, asymmetrical warfare can also lead to more insurgency and terrorist activity, threatening the citizens of the stronger power.1
1. Lin, Patrick; Abney, Keith; Bekey, George A. (2011-12-09). Robot Ethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Robotics (Intelligent Robotics and Autonomous Agents series) (Kindle Locations 2838-2844). The MIT Press. Kindle Edition.