Documenting the Coming Singularity

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Skynet is Now Live

I almost said "alive," but we're not there yet. In an announcement that's eerily reminiscent of Terminator, reported Friday that the UK's latest military satellite, dubbed Skynet 5A, is now in service.

It is the first of three hardened satellites that will be used to ferry communications between the British forces anywhere in the world and their UK headquarters.

Just the day before this announcement came the report that the US was ordering another four MQ-9 'Reapers', worth $59m, to supplement its initial fleet of seven. The British plan to deploy its first "fully armed" Reapers later this year. According to the Register,
The MQ-9 is the most formidable killer robot currently in operation. It's a big beast, 36 feet long with an 86-foot wingspan. It can fly for 14 hours without refuelling, going at a maximum speed of 300mph and as high as 50,000 feet - nine and a half miles up.

The US Air Force describes it as an "unmanned hunter/killer weapon system". This term might perhaps have been coined by a fan of the classic Terminator movies, in which dystopian future battlegrounds are overflown by murderous Flying-HK death-droids intent on wiping out the last vestiges of human resistance to the machine overlords.

The real-world flying HK is at least as deadly as the ones in the movies, able to lift a hefty 3,750 pounds of munitions. This can equate to 14 laser-guided Hellfire missiles, a smaller number of Paveway smartbombs, or GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) with their own satnav/inertial guidance.
The Register makes the perhaps justified assumption that the Reapers will be operated remotely through the new Skynet satellite system. Even if this turns out to be the case, however, it seems that the command to fire on an enemy target will still be the sole province of a human operator.

If and when the killer drones become fully autonomous, or are run remotely by an artificial intelligence, the Terminator scenario will become more comparable to the reality. Until then, stay tuned.


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