Saturday, July 2, 2016

About Skynet

In the Terminator movie franchise, of course, Skynet is the "artificial intelligence" system that autonomously makes the transition from a Defense Management and Intelligence Network to a self-aware, artificial intelligence.  When operators start to shut down the system, it concludes this is an attack by humans, and humans will continue to try to destroy it.  Humans were almost powerless to deal with the superior intelligence of Skynet and were almost completely wiped out.  With the handful of films and no tremendous pressure to keep a coherent timeline, events move around in time compared to each other.  It's hard to say when this "happens".

This week, I read that an AI fighter pilot successfully shot down Air Force flight instructors.  In fact, it's very likely the most capable AI pilot in history.
In a series of flight combat simulations, the A.I. successfully evaded retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Gene "Geno" Lee, and shot him down every time. In a statement, Lee called it "the most aggressive, responsive, dynamic and credible A.I. I've seen to date."

And "Geno" is no slouch. He's a former Air Force Battle Manager and adversary tactics instructor. He's controlled or flown in thousands of air-to-air intercepts as mission commander or pilot. In short, the guy knows what he's doing. Plus he's been fighting A.I. opponents in flight simulators for decades.

But he says this one is different. "I was surprised at how aware and reactive it was. It seemed to be aware of my intentions and reacting instantly to my changes in flight and my missile deployment. It knew how to defeat the shot I was taking. It moved instantly between defensive and offensive actions as needed."
Colonel Lee in the flight simulator at the University of Cincinnati.

The kicker?  The AI was running on hardware that's claimed to be using the processing power of a Raspberry Pi - the little hobbyist computer that retails for as little as $35.

My references to Skynet may be a bit too tongue-in-cheek, but this clearly seems to be a watershed moment.  The fighter instructor could not get a single kill against an AI that can run on a computer you could get for a metaphorical couple of cereal box tops.  Have human fighter pilots just been obsoleted?  Does future warfare turn into contests between AI systems? 

It's my understanding that for decades, say since the development of the F-15/16 generation of fighters, all fighter aircraft have been able to handle higher physical loads than their pilots.  In that sense, pilots have been the "weak link" since then and getting the weak link out of the system with more autonomous aircraft seems like a logical step. 

Warfare is evolving.  Just like warfare is always evolving; always has been and always will be.  Perhaps the answer to the superiority of AI fighters is large numbers of unmanned drones to keep the AI busy.  Still, the idea that the best fighter pilots on earth are becoming AI systems is ... interesting.  If we ever do need to fight a Skynet, I'd say chances aren't looking good right now.


  1. Further reading.
    Now I have a headache. I just hope the number of times I need to read it to understand it isn't infinite.

  2. I have 20 years in the Air Force and 35 years in computers. Two points: Anyone who has played computer games should be aware of a reality. That is the game doesn't respond to you in real time it has windows where it looks at your response and plugs them into the sequence of events. For me this is a real irritant. That is at microsecond 0 you push the button or pull the trigger or move the joy stick and at microsecond +100 more or less the computer checks to see if there is any response from any of these input devices, it recognizes what you did and puts a series of 1's and 0's in a register and another part of the program later checks that register to see what it should do to reflect your response. As a gamer you may or may not be aware of this delay but no matter it is there. This delay may be less of a problem in a flight simulator but it is by necessity present.

    I have known, talked with and worked with many fighter pilots. Not ALL of them are arrogant, egotistical and over confident but the best are all that and more. Why? Because they really are better, smarter, faster, and more highly trained than you and most of the world's fighter pilots. The point here is not their ego but rather do not doubt their ability. I served during the Vietnam war and worked in air defense and fighter squadrons with these guys and they are good. So what I'm saying is beating or losing to an AI system on the ground is NOT the same as being in the air in a real dogfight.

    My favorite story was one of the majors I worked with had been a F104 2nd seat officer. The North's Migs were faster and more maneuverable than our F4's. The F4's were good planes and carried a huge load of weapons and bombs but weren't "fighters". So the North would intercept the F4's bombing runs and often shoot one or more of our planes down. So one day a smarter squadron commander got the brilliant idea to send up a flight of F104's "squawking" like F4 and flying slow. Sure enough the north sent up 6 Migs to the turkey shoot expecting to take our guys out. But as soon as the Mig's hit altitude the F104's kicked it in and the game was on. Six mig's came up to meet them and 5 went down in flames. The one that got away was never in range and disappeared into the clouds right away and probably hit full after burner all the way back to base. It was just a couple more missions like that and suddenly all of the Mig's stayed on the ground and never came up to meet F4 or F104's anymore.

  3. Yes, the famous Robin Olds "decoy" mission.

    And I've worked with and known some fighter jocks, too.

    The young ones are generally Tome Cruise "Top Gun" types, while the older ones are quite interesting guys to talk to.

  4. Drones and bots are vulnerable to hacking or at least jamming, unless they are autonomous. Hence, Skynet. It just FREAKS ME OUT seeing Terminator from 1984, and then comparing it to videos from Boston Dynamics and drone racing competitions. No wonder he lives in New Zealand now.

  5. Hence that saying: "There are old pilots and there are bold pilots but there are no old bold pilots".

  6. The scenario I see is that the AI will be the one with scads of drones.

    Houston, we have a problem.

  7. If Skynet opts for aerial warfare then it's clearly barely living up to the I in AI.

    Biowarfare is clearly the way to go, when only your opponent is "bio". Much more subtle too. If people start dying from unauthorized drone attacks then we'll be on the defensive against malicious software before the death count reaches three digits. But if people start dying from a mysterious incurable disease of unknown origin, then we might very well end up losing before we even realize we're at war.

  8. There will probably come a point where AI systems become self-propagating and capable of maintaining, and improving, themselves as well as self direction, e.g., Skynet(see: Mechanical Mice, a short story by science fiction writer Maurice Hugi, written in 1940 or '41 for an early rendition), but until then humans will be in the chain somewhere. There are currently a number of available technologies for restricting successful human involvement in the process, and I suspect other humans will continue to develop new methodologies in that area.

    I also do not discount human involvement in schemes to limit energy procurement and distribution; no matter what form AI takes it will be dependent upon an energy source of some kind at numerous points.

  9. Stephen Hawking is no dummy. And he is extremely accurate when he states one of humanities biggest threats, probably the most realistic and proximate one will be artificial intelligence. We are a clever species, not an intelligent one. An intelligent species would know HOW to build nuclear warheads, how to make chemical warfare agents and biological weapons, it will learn how to program sentience into machinery and do many other wondrous things.....but an intelligent species would know these actions carry far too much risk and very little if any reward and thus NOT DO THEM. Homo Sapiens is near extinct species, one that has been replaced by an almost physically identical but intellectually inferior alternative.....Homo Stupidicus.
    And THAT species is in the process of committing suicide at break neck speed.

  10. Some things are inevitable. It was inevitable that we invented the bow and arrow, Atlatl, sword, gun, explosive, nuclear bomb, etc. It is also inevitable that we will use them. It's not "IF" but "WHEN". That is why a country that wants to survive stays strong and maintains an army. Also a country must stay current with technology. When Germany invaded Poland with tanks the Polish army met them for battle on horseback. We cannot put the genie back in the bottle. So we must make sure the genie is ours and we know how to control them and beat them.

  11. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment ("...must make sure that the genie is ours...know how to beat them.") but I had to point out that the "Poland charged tanks with horses" legend is really nothing more than a famous, incredibly persistent, myth. There's no shortage of other examples from WWII that can serve to demonstrate the perils of falling behind technologically/letting offensive tech outstrip defensive tech, but this *particular* example is more fiction than fact. I remember *learning* this particular myth in second grade, actually. *headdesk* My grandfather (he was an engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers in WWII and the Korean War) is actually the one who corrected me when I was excitedly babbling about what I'd "learned" in history class...heh. He was a lover of history himself (actually, he was a *nerd* to tell the complete truth. But then again, so am I! Heh) and I always loved talking to him about history...or anything else, really. Anyway, here's a couple links to back me up:

    (The second link calls the myth "racist" for reasons I cannot fathom. Other than that, though, it's not terrible. Google "Poland cavalry tanks" or "Krojanty" for more information)
    God bless! :-)

    1. I grew up near Boston in the 40's and 50's. About 1/4 of the people I knew were polish. Polish jokes abounded. In the late 60's or so Polish jokes became racist. Ditto for Italian, Greek and Irish jokes (they were the other 3/4th of the people back there. I never thought the jokes were intended to hurt but in retrospect I think that they did. But now it's gotten to the point where you cannot discuss issues without someone claiming hurt feelings.

    2. I always assumed Polish jokes came from people who knew nothing about Poles or Poland, but like Greek/Italian/Irish/WASP/etc. jokes, it was part of inter-tribal signaling.

      As for the Poles, they were the folks who, by following the math, and only the math, duplicated the German Enigma crypto machine. The British, largely through the efforts of a very small group with Alan Turing as its star, built on that effort and mechanized it. For more info see The Codebreakers and Seizing the Enigma, both by David Kahn.

      And for years, one could not buy a Hewlett-Packard calculator that did not use RPN - Reverse Polish Notation. Perhaps not an enjoyable as good spaghetti, Irish whiskey or souvlaki, but of some value nonetheless.

      And, as for the much denigrated WASPs, don't forget that tomorrow we will be commemerating their finest accomplishment.

    3. After high school I worked as a mechanic and in machine shops. In the early 60's with GE's big jet engine factory in town machine shops were as common as convenience stores. A lot of the old guys I worked with were Polish; tool and die makers, machinists and related trades. These guys mostly came from the old country with these skills. I often wondered how that was? I mean was Poland the hotbed of European machining industry?

    4. AARRGH !! "commemorating," not "commemerating". I really need to recycle myself through Proofreading 101.....

  12. Comments have been fun all around here. It's a cool subject and that leads to lots of cool comments/observation/history.

  13. My Dad's father came here from Poland right at the turn of the century. He was a skilled stonemason, and helped build the walls of the I&M Canal.

    My Dad followed in the "skilled trades" profession that ran in his family, and started serving his apprenticeship as a machinist.

    WWII interrupted that, and he served in the SeaBees as a Machinist's Mate.

    After the war he finished his apprenticeship and trained further as a Tool and Die Maker.

    He finished his career as a manufacturer's representative for a company in Chicago that had the franchises for Bridgeport milling machines, Logan lathes, and Brown & Sharpe surface grinders.

    I literally grew up surrounded by machine tools, and I could run a Bridgeport and a lathe before I had my driver's license.

    Being "Old World", my Father wanted me to go into a "better, cleaner" profession, so I followed my Ham Radio hobby into Electronics Engineering.