Killer Robot Swarm (and how do we stop them?) 3 replies

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Nemmerle Forum Mod

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#1 11 months ago
Ever since technological advancements made drones possible, people have warned of the potential dangers of weaponised UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), which could effectively become murderous slaughterbots we need to defend ourselves against. 
Now, it looks like those fears have become a reality. The Russian Ministry of Defence claims its forces in Syria were attacked a week ago by a swarm of home-made drones – the first time such a coordinated assault has been reported in a military action.


[Edit: Link to the video since the embedding doesn't seem to be working consistently - ]


Article link:

Fortunately we're not quite at the level in the video yet. This was thirteen relatively large drones taken out by conventional forces. Still, it's a troubling set of developments. One of the problems with autonomous weapons is that they concentrate power in the hands of one or a few individuals and allow that power to be applied in a very fine-grained way. It's inherently destabilising - someone will strike first, because not everyone cares about retaliation or believes it likely to happen to them.

Most of us get by because no-one wants us specifically dead. This sort of future comes about, what can any of us do other than sit in an underground bunker whilst the swarm of killer insects patrols the graveyard above?

I think this may be something we have to do something about to avoid living in a terrible future. The technology's going to evolve faster with government-backing, but regardless of whether the large governments of the world back it or not, it seems inevitable that it's coming. What sort of response can we come up with? What range of options does tech give us to stop these things?

I think it's clear that conventional military responses are out the window. Those SAMs the Russians used cost $13.15 million dollars (US) each. They fired seven of them. $92 million dollars to shoot down some crappy UAVs.
You can't have a SAM array in every city, and even if you did - all they have to do is stay beneath the buildings and you won't have a shot. 

These things live off of data. The response, it seems to me, would benefit from being an area of effect attack - because you're never going to be able to concentrate enough of your own anti-drone drones in an area to beat off an enemy. (i.e. if I get to choose when and where to strike, I'm bringing all my drones. By the time your drones get there in sufficient numbers, all my targets will be dead.) Besides which, whoever controls the larger drone-swarm becomes god in that area - I'm not convinced that governments wouldn't just arrange to quietly murder all the people who rebelled against their rule if they had the option. "Tragic, absolutely tragic event at the student demonstration against the war. Thousands dead. We don't know how terrorists got their hands on such advanced technology but this just underscores the importance of our policy!"

Electronic warfare? That's the only response I can think of at the moment. Use lasers to fry their cameras. Have some EMP bombs or the like available. Fry them with microwaves... Social media - insofar as it's published to the general public and used to display political affiliation - is going to be like signing your own death warrant. There'll be someone out there who wants to kill people who look like you, and it just takes one mental breakdown....

:/ I am really not super-happy with the idea of autonomous killer robot swarms. What can we do about them do you think? If anything?

Last edited by Nemmerle 11 months ago

Lindale Forum Mod

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#2 11 months ago

I am not sure we legally CAN do anything. I know the FAA cannot decide whether drones are a toy or an aircraft. So, even if you are on YOUR own property, and a drone with a camera comes hovering around YOUR house, shooting down that drone will leave YOU in jail. That essentially means you have the legal ability to spy on someone, and you can have the legal ability to call the police if your drone gets shot down, and you WILL win your case in court.

As for a weaponised drone, that will kill you before you even know it is there. We have no other choice but to rely on the military for this one.


MrFancypants Forum Admin

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#3 11 months ago

Let me know if you find the answer, pretty sure it could be turned into a decent amount of money :)

For remote-controlled systems (I'm guessing that is what was used to attack the Russians in Syria) existing jamming technology may be sufficient.

But for autonomus drones I'm not sure; I guess it is not easy enough to use for the average terrorist (who struggles building functioning bombs more ofthen than not) but it will definitely be used by various militaries. Things will get really bad when someone like Putin or Trump begins to realize that they can have a war without getting anyone on their own side killed.

There may be a couple of options to take out a swarm of small drones - such as the microwaves you mentioned or other directed energy weapons. Modificaitons to CIWS may also be quite useful (as drones are not armored putting a lot of fragments into the air may be effective). Problem is that a modern military won't rely on drone swarms, they'll couple them with all the other stuff they have in their arsenals and use more valuable (faster, armored) missiles to take out your defensive systems.

Last edited by MrFancypants 11 months ago

Superfluous Curmudgeon VIP Member

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#4 11 months ago

Yeah, the technology to be able to construct this sort of thing is very close right now. The AI (recognizing target face from a host of faces and pathfinding through a complex environment in a way that enables target identification) needs some work I think, but the rest of the tech has been pretty well demonstrated. Give it maybe 5 more years, and the technology will probably be readily available to anyone who has at least a little technical intelligence.

I think the ramifications of the technology depends mostly on who is using it. Forensics is pretty well  advanced, so unless one of these drones makes such a big  boom that all components are vaporized, I would think that an investigation could lead back to the perpetrator in the same way a bullet can be traced back to the shooter. That said, there are plenty of gun-related murders that go unsolved. Still, I think that using the technology for murder and getting away with it will be very difficult to pull off, especially when higher profile targets are involved.

As a terror/military weapon, this tech may be more effective, because it allows damage to be done on a much lower budget than previously possible. But consider the drones that the US has been using against these people for years. The targets have no way of detecting a drone strike, and won't see it coming until it is too late. We're already capable of doing huge amounts of damage without having to "get our hands dirty". What groups of drones might do to improve our capabilities is give us more precision in how we select targets. For example, if we want to take down a certain building, 20 drones loaded with small explosive packages might target critical points on the building to allow the building to be taken down much more cleanly than previously possible. Similarly, if we want to target a specific person in a crowded city, a swarm of drones could make this possible without having to worry about a high civilian casualty rate.

But from the perspective of enemy combatants, it might be a god-send because a relatively small group of people can manufacture a lot of weaponized UAVs on a pretty low budget. If a terrorist is able to smuggle a load of these into a crowded area, they could wreak havoc. I think there are a lot of groups already working on the take down of single drones. It seems like if the technology exists for semi-intelligent drones to be possible, then the tech should also exist for some sort of gun that can auto-target and shoot drones with a high degree of accuracy. EMP and microwave-based weapons would require a tremendous amount of energy to be effective, and would likely cause huge amount of collateral damage, so it's hard to imagine these methods being used for defense in crowded areas. Moreover, what's to say that this method of stopping the drone wouldn't cause the drone to detonate? If the drone is controlled by radio, jamming the radio signal is simple enough though.

Probably what would end up happening once one or two drones are used as weapons is that drones would be outlawed in all public areas, and some programs would be put into place to try to find weaponized drones before they get off the ground.

Maybe I am overly confident, but I don't see too much reason to be very paranoid about this. Unless the major first-world countries fall to a point where they can no longer afford any sort of meaningful military/research program, I think we'll continue to have an edge in technological weapons and counters.