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Robotic Cannon Loses Control, Kills 9 580

TJ_Phazerhacki writes "A new high tech weapon system demonstrated one of the prime concerns circling smarter and smarter methods of defense last week — an Oerlikon GDF-005 cannon went wildly out of control during live fire test exercises in South Africa, killing 9. Scarily enough, this is far from the first instance of a smart weapon 'turning' on its handlers. 'Electronics engineer and defence company CEO Richard Young says he can't believe the incident was purely a mechanical fault. He says his company, C2I2, in the mid 1990s, was involved in two air defence artillery upgrade programmes, dubbed Projects Catchy and Dart. During the shooting trials at Armscor's Alkantpan shooting range, "I personally saw a gun go out of control several times," Young says. "They made a temporary rig consisting of two steel poles on each side of the weapon, with a rope in between to keep the weapon from swinging. The weapon eventually knocked the pol[e]s down."' The biggest concern seems to be finding the glitches in the system instead of reconsidering automated arms altogether."
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Robotic Cannon Loses Control, Kills 9

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  • by Merovign ( 557032 ) on Thursday October 18, 2007 @07:44PM (#21033697)
    As I used to say to developers at a company I used to work for,

    "I want to tell you about a radical new idea I had - testing things before deploying them."

    In the case of weapons systems, that means debugging the software before loading the gun.

    Truth me told, most "automated" weapons are more like remote control, for precisely this reason.

    Also, while my experience is not vast in the area, most American weapons testers follow a lot of safety rules - including not being in the line of fire of the darned thing. Note I said most - we have our munitions accidents here, too.
  • by Fishead ( 658061 ) on Thursday October 18, 2007 @07:53PM (#21033829)
    As a robotics technician with close to 7 years experience working with Automated machines, all I can say is "PLEASE DON'T GIVE THEM GUNS!!!"

    Many times I have seen an automated system go out of control due to something as simple as a broken wire on an encoder to an entirely failed controller. Closest thing to this that we ever got was one day a SCARA robot (about the size and shape of a human arm) ran away (out of control) and hit the door on the work cell. Wouldn't have been a big deal except that another of the robotics guys was walking by and walked into the door as it swung open. Good times, good times, but I would never want to be around an automated machine with a gun, just too big of a chance for something to go wrong.
  • This reminds me of a chapter of Ghost in the Shell:SAC where a Robotic Cannon lost control and began shooting the military.

    Is truth mirroring fiction now?
  • by johnnywheeze ( 792148 ) on Thursday October 18, 2007 @08:03PM (#21033965)
    Guess the NRA has to change the slogan... Guns DO kill people!
  • by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Thursday October 18, 2007 @08:10PM (#21034051)

    I think I'm too old for this stuff. It seems like these days, if I mention to a younger software developer that even now Robocop is still one of the scariest films I've ever seen, they assume it's because of the ketchup effects.

  • Re:Riiight (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mav[LAG] ( 31387 ) on Thursday October 18, 2007 @08:35PM (#21034353)
    Of course they are. In the AAAD (All Arms Air Defence) training I did in the Royal Artillery we regularly knocked down scale targets that were moving at equivalent speeds with ordinary GPMGs. It wasn't easy at first but after a few thousand rounds you definitely get the hang of it.

    A few other points:

    * The majority of low level flying targets are subsonic anyway
    * It just takes a single hit in the right place on the airframe for the target to tear itself to pieces
    * Having a computer fire a weapon is a very very bad thing, One of the principles that was drummed into us was a human must always pull the trigger. Always. Computers can aim for you, make the tracking easier, calculate the numbers, whatever - anything but actually fire the weapon. That should always be done by a person with the correct training and authorisation.

    If this weapon fired by itself because of a software glitch, then it's poorly designed.

  • by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) * on Thursday October 18, 2007 @08:57PM (#21034611) Journal
    Humour is one of the alternatives we have for dealing with catastrophe. It's better than denial, because it holds the option open of unloading the emotion in conversation. And I'd much prefer unloading to reloading ( interpretation of that may not be yours).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 18, 2007 @09:39PM (#21034957)
    If you think this is sick, you should hear what comes out of the mouths of soldiers in combat.

    It's called gallows humor, and it has been shown to be one of the most effective coping strategies when being involved with or witness to a traumatic situation that you have little control over.

    Oh... after looking through your history, I finally get it. It's sick and disgusting to you because it happened to soldiers, rather than soldiers slaying civilians with their arsenal. Gotcha.
  • by Original Replica ( 908688 ) on Thursday October 18, 2007 @09:56PM (#21035125) Journal
    let us not sully the integrity of our intelligent, inorganic offspring by dragging them into our petty conflicts.

    Just who do you think is paying for the development of our "inorganic offspring"? All Governments gain and maintain power,control,and funding through military force.
  • by Mr. Flibble ( 12943 ) on Thursday October 18, 2007 @10:41PM (#21035541) Homepage
    The "Zeroth" law:

    0. A robot must know it is a robot.
  • by epee1221 ( 873140 ) on Thursday October 18, 2007 @10:59PM (#21035715)

    Nope, unlike what tv may have taught you, people rarely, if ever, joke about something anything that affects and hurts them.
    I can't speak for GP, GGP, etc., but I didn't get that notion from watching TV. I got that notion from watching myself. Apparently, as defense mechanisms go, it's not all that bad. []
  • by ravenshrike ( 808508 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @12:04AM (#21036327)
    Obviously you haven't spent any real time with paramedics, ER Personnel, or ex-frontline combat soldiers. Gallows humor is a time-tested method of sanity retainment. Even though I am none of the above, I know that if I didn't laugh at all the stupid shit that goes on in the world I would have killed myself a long damned time ago. It's entirely too fucking depressing.
  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @12:06AM (#21036357)

    I think I'm too old for this stuff. It seems like these days, if I mention to a younger software developer that even now Robocop is still one of the scariest films I've ever seen, they assume it's because of the ketchup effects.
    Ever watch the special commentary on Hellraiser? They interview the original makeup guys and they're like "Yeah, we were trying to go for something really horrific with the Cenobites, something that would make you sit back and go 'Holy fucking Christ, what happened to these people?' Give you a real shock reaction." Then they cut to the body modification freaks. "So we saw this and thought yeah, this is something we want to do to ourselves." The makeup guys thought they were making a horror movie, not a fashion statement. Reminds me of the comment "Hey, neocons! 1984 wasn't supposed to be an instruction manual!"
  • by Blakey Rat ( 99501 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @12:13AM (#21036431)
    You don't have to watch I, Robot, just to engage your brain.

    Asimov's "US Robotics" company leased robots to various companies to perform various tasks. All the robots were "hard-wired" with the three laws. Let's say you're a mining company and you're about to dump a bunch of gold on the market. Let's say I own a competing mining company at least a month away from being able to compete... I can walk to your facility and tell the robots to sabotage their equipment and themselves, and that's not against any of the three laws." Or, more directly, I could just tell the robots that I own them now, and they'd follow me home, and that's also allowed by the three laws.

    The Three Laws are just a plot device to write somewhat interesting mystery stories involving robots. (Mysteries like, "how could a human get a robot to kill someone despite the laws?) If you read Asimov's stories, you'll find that in nearly EVERY ONE, the mystery is solved because the robot has an "inbalance" in the laws, or that the third law was left out, or something else that directly contradicts the notion that the three laws are hard-coded.

    That's not to say the stories aren't good, just that the premise is pretty weak. At least a couple of them were excellent (like the one where the robot could read minds), although most were more than a little silly (like the one where the robot 'twiddles its thumbs'.)
  • Government coders (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 19, 2007 @12:21AM (#21036519)
    I was hired by a company (which shall remain nameless for obvious reasons) to replace their lead programmer (who shall also remain nameless for the same reasons). The code he had written was an outright mess. Many of the problems one learns to avoid in computer science 101 were his standard implementation patterns. Honestly the guy should never have been let behind a keyboard. The real time production system he wrote required seven full time technicians with rotating pager duty just to keep it running because of the high number of regular service interruptions (mostly deadlocks) that it experienced. The whole thing was a mess. I was amazed it ran at all.

    He had been hired during the .com boom, when anyone with any computer literacy at all could pass themselves off as a programmer, so I had attributed the mess to that. But then I learned that he was hired because of his prior experience as a programmer working for the American military. He had claimed that he had been involved in writing code for some kind of automated anti-missile defense system, though he had always insisted that he wasn't allowed to give details.

    If programmers like HIM are writing the code for these "smart" weapons, then I think we should just give the things to our enemies for free.

  • Obviously you haven't spent any real time with paramedics, ER Personnel, or ex-frontline combat soldiers. Gallows humor is a time-tested method of sanity retainment. Even though I am none of the above, I know that if I didn't laugh at all the stupid shit that goes on in the world I would have killed myself a long damned time ago. It's entirely too fucking depressing.

    Yes, one of the most funny lines I ever heard was during a resusicitation of a sad young man who, having been discharged out of a psych ward for depression went straight to a train line, and jumped in front of the oncoming train.

    The train was a high speed one, and he succeeded in going through the windscreen and ending up with the train driver. Severe injuries to both arms and legs plus possible head and neck injuries, but actually it was a survivable set of injuries. In the end he lost both legs over this, so he really did have something extra to make him depressed after this.

    The train was moving so fast that it basically made it all the way down to the next train station before pulling to a stop.

    During the initial resuscitation everything was really intense. We couldn't even get a drip in him initially as both arms and legs were out of action, and his neck was in a collar.

    After about 30 minutes of really hard work stabilising him, one of the surgical consultants arrived, and the story thus far was told to them as they were looking in the resus bay.

    The surgeons immediate comment on hearing the story, without blinking, was:

    "So you mean he didn't get booked for travelling without a ticket?"

    It was the funniest thing I had heard that week, and absolutely everyone lost it.

    Strange as it may sound, it really helped the team spirit and we continued on to salvage what we could out of a bad situation.

  • by Magnifique ( 1146937 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @02:05AM (#21037365)
    Where is that deep phsycological analysis of humanity coming from?

    I invite you to come to Israel and hear stand-up comedies about (among other things) the holocaust, suicide bombings and war.

    The fact that its "not politically correct" in the American World Picture as it is today does not make it true.

    If anything - The American TV dominance taught us the exact opposite - That one has to value "political correctness" above all else human emotion, will or need, even when that will or need is the normal, open and proper form of reaction.
  • by fusion9290991 ( 721295 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @05:10AM (#21038385)
    I'm South African, and this story was all over the news for a couple of days. Seeing the people in the hospital with some of their limbs blown off wasn't a pleasant sight, but there's a consensus here that the whole thing went pear shaped because of inadequate training, and quite probably inadequate maintenance on the machinery.

    A bit of background:
    Since the government changed from white-run to black about 15 years ago, almost nothing has been done to keep our military equipment up to scratch. We went from having one of the best (sizewise) defence forces in the world to one that "loses" millions of dollars worth of equipment in war torn countries like the Congo and Sudan. And by equipment, I mean armoured cars, transport vehicles, artillery, grenades, millions of rounds of ammo, you name it. When called to account, the minister of defense (Mosiuoa "Terror" Lekota, I kid you not!) basically said that all armies lose equipment, and that he's not even going to bother looking into it. There's lots of things they won't look into these days. Even when our own health minister expounds on the value of garlic, lemon juice and beetroot as a cure for HIV, she's completely backed by all her cronies in the SA gvt. But I digress...

    In an effort to bring our defence force back up to scratch, a number of black former anti-apartheid "struggle heroes" got involved in buying about R40bn (about US$6.5bn) worth of materiel from overseas arms companies based in Sweden, Germany and others. Corruption and kickbacks were so rife at this point that even the Germans are still trying to untangle the South African side of things (our government doesn't believe in transparency when it looks like president Thabo Mbeki might be involved, and he was, which is why the investigations keep stalling). But to give you an idea, the SA government purchased some new corvettes for what passes for our Navy, which are too expensive to run. Last I heard they were sitting in dry dock, because it was going to be too expensive to maintain them if they actually put them in the water and used them for exercises. I'm not sure who we'd be defending ourselves against anyway, actually...

    More than to 40% of our military (which is about 90% black now) is infected with HIV, and half of them don't know which end of an automatic rifle is which. They lose or sell their weapons and ammunition to criminal syndicates which use them for cash-in-transit heists (there's at least 2 a day, they don't even make the papers any more unless the guards in the armoured cars died a more gruesome death than usual). They also use them in armed home invasions, where a group of 3-10 armed blacks will burst into a home, torture and rape and kill the homeowners and families (usually white) before making off with the family car and a few electrical goods. We have about 55 murders a day (conservative estimate, (think a tour bus full of people)), roughly 144 rapes a day, and about 880 burglaries a day in this country, all aided indirectly by incompetent military and police personnel. That may not sound like much, until you work it out, to about 50,000 people die. every. single. year. And those are just the ones reported. And it's getting worse. Have a look at what's going on in an average suburb in Pretoria (name sooned to be changed to "Tshwane", see below). []. This page covers just the last 3 months, more links at bottom.

    Many of you will nod your heads and go "yeah well, you deserve it after apartheid", but there's a couple of things you need to realise. 1. that most other countries that have at some stage practised (or still practise) some form of racial segregation. That doesn't make it right, but the only main difference between those countries and ours is that SA had an actual word for it. "Apartheid" basically means "separateness" in
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 19, 2007 @10:15AM (#21041031)

    We killed what was it, twenty civilians trying to take out Saddam the opening night of the war? We've got Marines on trial for deliberately raping and murdering civilians up close and personal but we gave medals to guys doing the indiscriminate killing from the air. We act like it's different, like accidentally killing dozens of people in an air attack is different from shooting them up close and personal.

    Well, the very fact that it take changed state of mind to do the latter but not the former is what discriminates the two. You'll lock up those guys who seem more likely to be behaving anomalously and perhaps may do it again some time later, some place nearer home.

    I am not defending blind hi-tech killings though. To victims and their families it sure makes little difference. Only benefit (in partial worldview) is that killers' minds are not traumatized by seeing inflicted suffering, so they can function as normal humans upon their return into general population. This hypocrisy is embedded into system and enforced by controlling media and censoring disturbing and accusing reports that could encumber "uninformed killers' " consciences. Like in some Godwinesque examples, every person "just" does his duty (human machines, no thinking about it) and there is no hard feelings toward "unfortunate" victims - it had been enough for most grave and most massive systematic crimes in history (such as Inquisition trials, for instance... their reports and journals are SO filled with love, understanding and compassion for defendants...).

    Nature, as well as presence of Evil is elusive and not easily recognized... or readily dismissed as too horrific to acknowledge or out of place, therefore impossible, in Good Intentions' Quests.

Bell Labs Unix -- Reach out and grep someone.