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Pentagon Studies Weapons That Can Read Users’ Mind

Published: July 15, 2017
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NEWSEUM: The troops of tomorrow may be able to pull the trigger using only their minds. As artificially intelligent drones, hacking, jamming, and missiles accelerate the pace of combat, some of the military’s leading scientists are studying how mere humans can keep up with the incredible speed of cyber warfare, missiles and other threats.

One option: Bypass crude physical controls — triggers, throttles, keyboards — and plug the computer directly into the human brain. In one DARPA experiment, a quadriplegic first controlled an artificial limb and then flew a flight simulator. Future systems might monitor the users’ nervous system and compensate for stress, fatigue, or injury. Is this the path to what the Pentagon calls human-machine teaming?

Navy X-47B drone.

This is an unnerving scenario for those humans, like Stephen Hawking, who mistrust artificial intelligence. If your nightmare scenario is robots getting out of control, “let’s teach them to read our minds!” is probably not your preferred solution. It sounds more like the beginning of a movie where cyborg Arnold Schwarzenegger goes back in time to kill someone.

But the Pentagon officials who talked up this research yesterday at Defense One’s annual tech conference emphasized the objective was to improve human control over artificial intelligence. Teaching AI to monitor its user’s level of stress, exhaustion, distraction, and so on helps the machine adapt itself to better serve the human — instead of the other way around. Teaching AI to instantly detect its user’s intention to give a command, instead of requiring a relatively laborious push of a button, helps the human keep control — instead of having to let the AI off the leash because no human can keep up with it.

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