January: I wrote of Slaughterbots – the potential of small ariel drones that could kill. March: I talked about how Sci-Fi was becoming reality with the intro of Skydio a drone that could track you by your face and gait. Now – August: two drones try to kill Nicholas Maduro. Gulp!

Dateline: 4 August 2018, Caracas: Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s speech at a military parade was interrupted by the sound of two explosions. Maduro’s camp immediately claimed that the explosions resulted from a failed assassination attempt by drones carrying explosives.

Back in January (yes, just 8 months ago) I wrote a blog called Slaughterbots. Here is an excerpt:

“A few very recent facts for your consideration:

  • “Over one million aerial drones are now registered in the U.S.” (January 18, 2018). In 2016, it was virtually zero.
  • “Meet the world’s smallest selfie-snapping drone” – fits in the palm of your hand (November 2, 2017).
  • “China is making 1,000-UAV drone swarms now” (January 8, 2018).
  • “On the night of January 5th and into the early hours of the next day, Russian forces in Syria came under attack by a ‘massive application of unmanned aerial vehicles’ says the Russian Ministry of Defense”. (January 10, 2018)

Low Cost + Wide Availability + Miniaturization + Swarming Artificial Intelligence + Weaponization = a frightening turning point?

Elon Musk and 115 other experts are begging the UN to curtail and halt the infusion of AI into weapon systems. But they are thinking about today’s military systems being made smarter and worse: autonomous – no more humans in the kill loop. But let’s jump off the straight-line extrapolations and imagine something more radical…Ours is now a world of guerilla warfare and non-state actors where plentiful, cheap, tiny, smart and deadly drones point to a disturbing part of our digital future.

Take a look at this YouTube video on what that future might look like.”

I got a real mixed response to that post. Some pushed back pretty hard claiming this was just scare tactics. Then, we were all caught off guard by a product announcement by a company called Skydio. In March (five months ago) I blogged about it in: It’s Science Fiction – Until It Isn’t. Here are some excerpts from that post:

“The young man is running through the forest trying to escape pursuit. He dodges left, then right, spins and ducks behind a tree but to no avail; the drone hunting him is smart. It recognizes his face, gait and clothing, and is relentless and autonomous. There is no one flying it but its own AI with the instructions to always keep him in view.

Sound like the flimsy beginning of a bad sci-fi movie? No, it is a New York Times reporter testing the R1 from Skydio and you can watch it (paywall) here. The company promotes it as a new way to do visual storytelling: “Skydio R1 knows what to film and moves itself with the freedom of flight to get the best shot, letting you capture otherwise impossible videos of your adventures.” Why it’s a flying selfie! Isn’t that great?

The R1 price is $2,499…it can only fly for 16 minutes. Finally, it’s 13”x16”x1.5” and weighs in at 2.2 pounds. Not quite a flying cookie sheet but nowhere near the tiny palm sized nemesis in the Slaughterbots. It doesn’t seem like we have anything to worry about, right?”

Venezuela’s Interior and Justice Minister Nestor Reverol revealed that they think it was a DJI M600 drone. It’s a professional or semi-professional drone that a photographer would use. You put photography equipment on it of up to 13 pounds or six kilograms of equipment. If you exchange photography equipment with explosives — TNT apparently was used — you can get quite an explosion with that amount.

All the technology is here. We have an attempted proof of concept. We didn’t need it miniaturized. We didn’t need an Artificial Intelligence to fly it. And we didn’t even need a swarm to overwhelm defenses. Wonder how many months it will be until all those are wrapped into a successful attack on someone.

Care to speculate?

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