The Navy’s research arm is justifiably proud of its recent experiment with “swarming” drone boats, whose results (with video) were officially released today. But the very thing that’s most impressive about the swarmboats — their ability to act autonomously with minimal human guidance — raises crucial questions about when we can trust a robot to pull the trigger in combat.
Those are questions the Office of Naval Research (ONR) candidly told me it has not yet addressed. With the chief of ONR expecting a full-scale operational demonstration within a year, however, someone had better get on them soon. According to at least one expert I spoke to, surprisingly, the answers might be more reassuring than you’d expect.
The central issue? Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder aims to break the current Predator paradigm in which each unmanned vehicle requires constant supervision by at least one human being, if not several. “The excitement about this technology is it is autonomous,” not just remote-controlled, Klunder told reporters: “We basically have one sailor overseeing the event.”