Slaughterbots -- Meh
The Market Ticker - Commentary on The Capital Markets
2017-11-22 07:00 by Karl Denninger
in Technology , 221 references Ignore this thread
Slaughterbots -- Meh
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The stupid, it burns!

A UC Berkeley computer science professor helped to create a video that imagined a world where nuclear weapons were replaced by swarms of autonomous tiny drones that could kill half a city and are virtually unstoppable.

Stuart Russell, the professor, said these drones are already a reality.


This so-called "professor" needs to be taken out into San Francisco Bay where there are sharks and tossed overboard for this horse**** stunt.

Let me explain.

Yes, it is trivial, even today, to create a small drone that can "pierce" someone's skull.  You can quite-trivially recognize a "head" and aim at it, along with striking it.  You don't even need a lot of forward speed since the attack can come from above, using gravity, and with a small enough "snout" the amount of kinetic energy required is pretty small too.

That's not the problem.

The problem is energy management and density.

Today's "hobby" (and small commercial) drones are energy density limited.  The unit has to lift its power source, which is a battery.  Batteries are terrible in this regard because they carry their reactants, including the oxidizer, in the case.

This means the common drone is limited to a few minutes of fly time before its battery is exhausted.

So to use such a "swarm" you'd have to release the drones close to where they will hit, and they will get one target per, provided they can find and execute on one before their power runs out.  The smaller the drone the less power it carries because it's ability to lift said cell is smaller.  If it's designed like a plane rather than a hovercraft it can go further but it's still severely limited on runtime.

If you start putting explosives inside it then you have the same problem in that you have to lift that too.  This, by the way, is why small hobby-style drones don't bother the various authorities all that much when it comes to terrorists using them for bombs -- they simply can't carry enough explosive to be all that interesting.

That doesn't mean it won't suck to be you if you're targeted by something like this.  It will.  But the idea of a "killer, cheap swarm" that spreads out over a city and murders people by the score is science fiction horse**** because only in that universe does the power supply exist to allow the dwell time and travel range to actually make it practical.

Now in a "battlefield" type environment, if you can get close enough, it's another matter.  There a bunch of tiny drones that can only lift a fraction of a pound each might be very effective across small areas.  Release a bunch (e.g. from high altitude overhead from a "drop plane"), they target anything bipedal, ram what appears to be the "head" and explode.  Even very small charges would have devastating impact, could be contact-fused (easy and as cheap to make as a rifle primer) and would be extremely hard to defend against (over than by being behind hard cover on all sides!)

But in a city or other urban type environment against civilians, and the outrageously idiotic claim that $25 million can buy an "army" of these things today that can kill half a city?


I can come up with a half-dozen cheap countermeasures against such a swarm.  Perfect, no, they wouldn't be but you don't have to be -- you just have to make using them uneconomic.

I ain't skeered; bring it on.

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Posts: 5415
Incept: 2009-02-28

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Isn't it time to draw up new charters for universities and shut the existing ones down, in a ploy to get rid of the morons that populate them? I have heard they don't have the money to fix the roads in San Francisco, yet they have money to pay morons like this. Being they don't have any money after paying bureaucratic morons, where the hell does this guy think they would get the money for something like this. All I can tell you, is the day it starts, I'm going after the source.

I think if they could make a list and call it great American morons, 98 of the top 100 would be university professors. The other 2 would be guys that on more than one occasion, shot a toe off or something like that.

The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.---John Kenneth Galbraith
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Bern, Switzerland
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historians will remember this period as "the era of the BS"

elon musk will create a colony on mars in 2 afternoons, and produce 10mila cars per day that will drive themselves to their customer once out of the assembly line

drones will deliver pizza, amazon packages someone else ordered, and your capital punishment

central banks will bail out everybody and their uncles printing money out of thin air

AI will take over the world, even though it cant even traslate from italian to german

we will switch to wind power, because experts predicted that we will run out of oil by 1990, the latest

and global warming will roast us all up, says the climatologists who can predict global temperature with hundredth of degree of precision even though the weather stations only measure daily min and max temp with whole degree precision

im worried because i have two children and they will have to survive all this nonsense

Posts: 294
Incept: 2007-09-11

Los Angeles
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I like the idea of deploying swarms of them at super short range for room clearing and dealing with pesky combatants behind cover but sadly, a cheap hand grnade would do the job faster and cheaper.... or at least that's what my wife would say when I float the idea of buying a bunch of new toys smiley
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Around the World
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Seems like something better has been figured out already.

Posts: 54
Incept: 2017-04-29

DeKalb, Illinois
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I used to work in the smart munitions area. The think tank where I worked came up with a computer simulation program to tout the benefits of smart weapons. The problem was that saturating anti-armor scenario with lots of dumb bomblets always worked better than the smart stuff.
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A True American Patriot!
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What would be the "on station" time for a drone to kill a single target? Not a "slaughter bot," but an "assassin bot?" It could be bigger than what we are discussing.

Let's say a union leader gets uppity, or a Clinton fundraiser is talking to authorities, or someone wants to whack an it feasible to program into the electronics facial recognition software, enough power to stay up for X amount of time, and enough explosives to kill the target.

Granted, you would have to know approximately where the target is, otherwise the loiter time will eat up the available lift/power.

I'm thinking the usefulness of such a thing is to get close to a perimeter-defended target (body guards, or remaining at a secure location, like a house or such...) Until this becomes commonplace, most defensive perimeters won't include anti-drone defense measures. Most body guards won't carry 12ga shotguns, or be skeet trained, and by the time they know they are under attack, it's already game over.

It also allows for an assassin to be "not at the scene," which is helpful in a criminal defense case, since reasonable doubt would be relatively easy to establish.

Those are my thoughts. I don't think swarms of bots are the issue, but single target drones, even if they cost $10K ea, are likely to be an issue. $10K is a mere fraction of what it would cost to defend one's self in court.

"My object in life is to dethrone God and destroy capitalism." - Karl Marx
"Destroy the family, you destroy the country." - Lenin
"Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed." - Stalin
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A True American Patriot!
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A drone that can carry enough CPU to run facial recognition and a small explosive charge (more than enough to "get" one person on "dive bomb" sort of run) is not a crazy scenario at all.

It would be EXTREMELY hard to interdict such a device; carry all the 12ga shotguns you want but trying to hit something coming at you at 40kts or more is a whole different game than shooting at a duck.

Figuring out how to not have a material dwell requirement is the hard part. Were I interested in such a thing I suspect I could come up with several ideas.....

Winding it down.
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Regarding murder by drone, another technique besides an explosive charge would be the hypothetical "bolito" from the book and movie "The Counselor". It is basically a garrote made with very light thin wire and a small electric motor. Once dropped over someone's head the motor kicks in and strangles them. Special gearing would make it cinch up quickly and then lower the gear to pull tight.

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Spence, it's not strangulation. It's simple unstoppable blood loss from the severed carotid arteries.

This kind of thing has been done using piano strings for a few hundred years now. I'd say the idea of it being delivered by flying robot makes it a bit less personal, but no less fatal.

Just think of it as a particularly portable guillotine. The head may be completely removed, but it is certainly not a necessity, and the target/subject is still dead.

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Just think of it as a particularly portable guillotine.

Brings to mind a movie I saw a long time ago.

Put the boots to him. Medium style.
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Huntsville, AL
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Punch_rockgroin, the idea of a man-portable, retrievable, and reusable guillotine-like thing is not especially without the realm of possibility, especially in the hands of a super-ninja/super-shogun kind of Wonder Woman sort of a guy.

It's an entertaining movie clip, just the same.

Reflecting now... Norfolk, Virginia, in 1974, had some movie theaters on Granby Street that specialized in the "kung-fu" genre. I never saw any of them, but since last call around there was later than most other places in Tidewater I was near them a good bit. The only movie I ever saw in Tidewater, except "Executive Action", was (to my eternal shame and disgust) "Deep Throat", and I'd never have seen that had not a Navy bud asked me to accompany his wife, another bud, and the wife's younger friend to it (for "moral support" or something). The final outcome of that night was, shall we say, less than perfect.

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Concerning the assassin bot, wont a Predator with a *much* smaller munition than the standard Hellfire do the job? Or are we talking about a smaller drone, closer in, launching? aW&ST did an article a while back about U.K. attempts to develop attack drones with high dwell time but I dont remember if these were supposed to be suicide drones or platforms.

It's not an issue of "cooperation" vs "go it alone": it's a question of involuntary vs voluntary relationships.
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arkansas ozarks
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Yes, significant ' stay over target time ' dictates a combustion engine.
That was one advantage of the Japanese Zero - it was light enough to fly on 100 hp and a pilot could throttle his engine back to that where it'd burn around just 10 gallons an hour. That's why we thought they must have secret airstrips.

Were i interested in building a killer drone i'd start with a weedeater motor.

Never trust a computer with anything important.
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DoD has been testing & reviewing the "hive Mind" Swarming Drones thing for awhile now..
Video tests at links..

Controlling that swarm is where autonomy comes in. With every Predator drone, theres an actual joystick and flight controls for a human pilot, whose job it is to direct the uncrewed plane and maneuver it. That one-to-one ratio would be impossible to maintain with a small drone swarm, and given that the perdix drone has a listed flight time of over 20 minutes, it would be a lot of effort for a very short excursion.


Cognitive Co-Dependency is when a normal rational person, internalizes irrational illogical presentations, and somehow reconciles them to fit their scripted indoctrination of logical analysis.
Samuel L. Clemens:There is NO Native Criminal Class; EXCEPT for CONgress
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