In a near-future war—one that might begin tomorrow, for all we know—a soldier takes up a shooting position on an empty rooftop. His unit has been fighting through the city block by block. It feels as if enemies could be lying in silent wait behind every corner, ready to rain fire upon their marks the moment they have a shot.
Through his gunsight, the soldier scans the windows of a nearby building. He notices fresh laundry hanging from the balconies. Word comes in over the radio that his team is about to move across an open patch of ground below. As they head out, a red bounding box appears in the top left corner of the gunsight. The device’s computer vision system has flagged a potential target—a silhouetted figure in a window is drawing up, it seems, to take a shot.
The soldier doesn’t have a clear view, but in his experience the system has a superhuman capacity to pick up the faintest tell of an enemy. So he sets his crosshair upon the box and prepares to squeeze the trigger.
In different war, also possibly just over the horizon, a commander stands before a bank of monitors. An alert appears from a chatbot. It brings news that satellites have picked up a truck entering a certain city block that has been designated as a possible staging area for enemy rocket launches. The chatbot has already advised an artillery unit, which it calculates as having the highest estimated “kill probability,” to take aim at the truck and stand by.
According to the chatbot, none of the nearby buildings is a civilian structure, though it notes that the determination has yet to be corroborated manually. A drone, which had been dispatched by the system for a closer look, arrives on scene. Its video shows the truck backing into a narrow passage between two compounds. The opportunity to take the shot is rapidly coming to a close.
For the commander, everything now falls silent. The chaos, the uncertainty, the cacophony—all reduced to the sound of a ticking clock and the sight of a single glowing button:
“APPROVE FIRE ORDER.”
To pull the trigger—or, as the case may be, not to pull it. To hit the button, or to hold off. Legally—and ethically—the role of the soldier’s decision in matters of life and death is preeminent and indispensable. Fundamentally, it is these decisions that define the human act of war.
It should be of little surprise, then, that states and civil society have taken up the question of intelligent autonomous weapons—weapons that can select and fire upon targets without any human input—as a matter of serious concern. In May, after close to a decade of discussions, parties to the UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons agreed, among other recommendations, that militaries using them probably need to “limit the duration, geographical scope, and scale of the operation” to comply with the laws of war. The line was nonbinding, but it was at least an acknowledgment that a human has to play a part—somewhere, sometime—in the immediate process leading up to a killing.
But intelligent autonomous weapons that fully displace human decision-making have (likely) yet to see real-world use. Even the “autonomous” drones and ships fielded by the US and other powers are used under close human supervision. Meanwhile, intelligent systems that merely guide the hand that pulls the trigger have been gaining purchase in the warmaker’s tool kit. And they’ve quietly become sophisticated enough to raise novel questions—ones that are trickier to answer than the well-covered wrangles over killer robots and, with each passing day, more urgent: What does it mean when a decision is only part human and part machine? And when, if ever, is it ethical for that decision to be a decision to kill?
For a long time, the idea of supporting a human decision by computerized means wasn’t such a controversial prospect. Retired Air Force lieutenant general Jack Shanahan says the radar on the F4 Phantom fighter jet he flew in the 1980s was a decision aid of sorts. It alerted him to the presence of other aircraft, he told me, so that he could figure out what to do about them. But to say that the crew and the radar were coequal accomplices would be a stretch.
That has all begun to change. “What we’re seeing now, at least in the way that I see this, is a transition to a world [in] which you need to have humans and machines … operating in some sort of team,” says Shanahan.
The rise of machine learning, in particular, has set off a paradigm shift in how militaries use computers to help shape the crucial decisions of warfare—up to, and including, the ultimate decision. Shanahan was the first director of Project Maven, a Pentagon program that developed target recognition algorithms for video footage from drones. The project, which kicked off a new era of American military AI, was launched in 2017 after a study concluded that “deep
By: Arthur Holland Michel
Title: Inside the messy ethics of making war with machines
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/08/16/1077386/war-machines/
Published Date: Wed, 16 Aug 2023 09:00:00 +0000
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These scientists live like astronauts without leaving Earth
This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.
In January 2023, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.
“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”
That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.
For 16 days, Sweeney and her colleagues lived in tents on the ice, spending half their time trapped inside as storms blew snow against their tents. When the weather permitted, Sweeney snowmobiled to and from seismometer sites, once getting caught in a whiteout that, she said, felt like zooming inside a ping-pong ball.
On the glacier, Sweeney was always cold, sometimes bored, often frustrated. But she was also alive, elated. And she felt a form of focus that eluded her on her home continent. “I had three objectives: to be a good crewmate, to do good science, and to stay alive,” she said. “That’s all I had to do.”
None of that was easy, of course. But it may have been easier than landing back on the earth of El Paso. “My mission ended, and it’s over,” she said. “And how do I process through all these things that I’m feeling?”
Then, in May, she attended the 2023 Analog Astronaut Conference, a gathering of people who simulate long-term space travel from the relative safety and comfort of Earth. Sweeney had learned about the event when she visited an analog facility in the country of Jordan. There, she’d met one of the conference’s founders, Jas Purewal, who invited her to the gathering.
The meeting was held, appropriately, at Biosphere 2, a glass-paneled, self-contained habitat in the Arizona desert that resembles a 1980s sci-fi vision of a space settlement — one of the first facilities built, in part, to understand whether humans could create a habitable environment on a hostile planet.
The 40-acre Biosphere 2 campus in Oracle, Arizona. It was one of the first facilities built for analog astronaut missions. UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
A speaker at the conference had spent eight months locked inside a simulated space habitat in Moscow, Russia, and she talked about how the post-mission period had been hard for her. The psychological toll of reintegration became a chattering theme throughout the whole meeting. Sweeney, it turned out, wasn’t alone.
Across the world, around 20 analog space facilities host people who volunteer to be study subjects, isolating themselves for weeks or months in polar stations, desert outposts, or even sealed habitats inside NASA centers. These places are intended to mimic how people might fare on Mars or the moon, or on long-term orbital stations. Such research, scientists say, can help test out medical and software tools, enhance indoor agriculture, and address the difficulties analog astronauts face, including, like Sweeney’s, those that come when their “missions” are over.
Lately, a community of researchers has started to make the field more formalized: laying out standards so that results are comparable; gathering research papers into a single database so investigators can
By: Sarah Scoles
Title: These scientists live like astronauts without leaving Earth
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/09/22/1080035/scientists-live-like-astronauts-without-leaving-earth/
Published Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2023 15:38:48 +0000
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Making sense of sensor data
Consider a supply chain where delivery vehicles, shipping containers, and individual products are sensor-equipped. Real-time insights enable workers to optimize routes, reduce delays, and efficiently manage inventory. This smart orchestration boosts efficiency, minimizes waste, and lowers costs.
Many industries are rapidly integrating sensors, creating vast data streams that can be leveraged to open profound business possibilities. In energy management, growing use of sensors and drone footage promises to enable efficient energy distribution, lower costs, and reduced environmental impact. In smart cities, sensor networks can enhance urban life by monitoring traffic flow, energy consumption, safety concerns, and waste management.
These aren’t glimpses of a distant future, but realities made possible today by the increasingly digitally instrumented world. Internet of Things (IoT) sensors have been rapidly integrated across industries, and now constantly track and measure properties like temperature, pressure, humidity, motion, light levels, signal strength, speed, weather events, inventory, heart rate and traffic.
The information these devices collect—sensor and machine data—provides insight into the real-time status and trends of these physical parameters. This data can then be used to make informed decisions and take action—capabilities that unlock transformative business opportunities, from streamlined supply chains to futuristic smart cities.
John Rydning, research vice president at IDC, projects that sensor and machine data volumes will soar over the next five years, achieving a greater than 40% compound annual growth rate through 2027. He attributes that not primarily to an increasing number of devices, as IoT devices are already quite prevalent, but rather due to more data being generated by each one as businesses learn to make use of their ability to produce real-time streaming data.
Meanwhile, sensors are growing more interconnected and sophisticated, while the data they generate increasingly includes a location in addition to a timestamp. These spatial and temporal features not only capture data changes over time, but also create intricate maps of how these shifts unfold across locations—facilitating more comprehensive insights and predictions.
But as sensor data grows more complex and voluminous, legacy data infrastructure struggles to keep pace. Continuous readings over time and space captured by sensor devices now require a new set of design patterns to unlock maximum value. While businesses have capitalized on spatial and time-series data independently for over a decade, its true potential is only realized when considered in tandem, in context, and with the capacity for real-time insights.
Download the report.
This content was produced by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by MIT Technology Review’s editorial staff.
By: MIT Technology Review Insights
Title: Making sense of sensor data
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/09/21/1079924/making-sense-of-sensor-data/
Published Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2023 17:00:00 +0000
The Download: inverse vaccines, and Microsoft’s big deal
This is today’s edition of The Download our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.
How inverse vaccines might tackle diseases like multiple sclerosis
On the whole, typical vaccines prime the immune system to respond. But scientists are also working on “inverse vaccines” that teach the immune system to stand down.
Last week Jeffrey Hubbell and his colleagues at the University of Chicago reported that an inverse vaccine they developed had successfully reversed a disease similar to multiple sclerosis in mice. Hubbell has tested this approach before, but only as a way of preventing the disease—not curing it.
These immune-dampening shots could lead to a whole host of therapies to treat autoimmune diseases. And in fact, Anokion, a company Hubbell cofounded, has already launched clinical trials to test whether this type of inverse vaccine might help people with multiple sclerosis and celiac disease. Read the full story.
This story is from The Checkup, our weekly biotech and health newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.
To learn more about vaccines, why not check out:
+ What to know about this autumn’s covid vaccines. New variants will pose a challenge, but early signs suggest the shots will still boost antibody responses. Read the full story.
+ Who benefits most from the new covid vaccines? Data show that older adults and people with underlying illnesses need the vaccine most. Read the full story.
+ What’s next for mRNA vaccines. mRNA vaccines helped us through the covid-19 pandemic—but they could also help defend against many other infectious diseases, offer universal protection against flu, and even treat cancer. Read the full story.
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 The UK is revisiting Microsoft’s offer to acquire Activision
But it’s not a done deal yet. (WSJ $)
UK regulators have accepted Microsoft’s tweaks to the deal, in principle. (FT $)
2 The US has granted Ukraine a lot more military hardware
But long-range missiles, which Ukraine covets, won’t be included in the package. (ABC News)
The US equipment will plug the gap now Poland has ceased sending weapons. (Economist $)+ Decoy weapons are successfully fooling Russian troops. (FT $)
Inside the messy ethics of making war with machines. (MIT Technology Review)
3 The blockchain’s future looks surprisingly crypto-free
Startups have more modest goals now, ideally without legal complications. (Rest of World)+ Crypto parties are still raging if you know where to look, though. (Bloomberg $)
4 These law geeks are taking us inside Google’s antitrust trial
Google may have stopped the trial from being live streamed, but it can’t prevent members of the public from sitting in. (Wired $)
5 People are still queuing to buy the new iPhone
Lines of eager customers in China, the UK, Dubai and Australia suggest Apple’s appeal is as strong as ever. (Bloomberg $)
6 A man-made organism defies the rules of biology
In theory, using unnatural amino acids could make organisms less prone to viral infections. (Proto.Life)
7 Your intimate health information is just data to Big Tech
Data that can generally be sold onto willing advertisers. (The Atlantic $)
How your brain data could be used against you. (MIT Technology Review)
8 Gen Z isn’t immune to online scams
In fact, in many cases, they fall for them more than boomers. (Vox)
9 Absolutely nobody loves PowerPoint
Nonetheless, it persists. (FT $)
Next slide, please: A brief history of the corporate presentation. (MIT Technology Review)
10 Don’t throw out your used coffee grounds
They can become the foundation for all sorts of 3D-printing projects instead. (Ars Technica)
Watch this team of drones 3D-print a tower. (MIT Technology Review)
Quote of the day
“It feels bad, you feel hurt. Then you give yourself time to grieve, you find someone else and you get excited again.”
—Rowan Rosenthal, a former principal product designer for Grindr, likens the decision to leave the company because of its strict return-to-office mandate to the end of a relationship, they tell the Washington Post.
The big story
California’s coming offshore wind boom faces big engineering hurdles
Last December, dozens of companies fought for the right to lease the first commercial wind power sites off the coast of California in an auction
By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: inverse vaccines, and Microsoft’s big deal
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/09/22/1080043/the-download-inverse-vaccines-and-microsofts-big-deal/
Published Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2023 12:10:00 +0000
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