Weaponized AI: My Experience in AI

I’m on a panel with the topic “Weaponized AI and Future Warfare” at the upcoming Libertycon, so I’ll write on that to organize my thoughts.

First, who am I to have an opinion?

Around 1982, I was attempting to break in as a writer, tiring of whiteout and lusting after the word processors that were becoming available. I built a CP/M system and video board from kits, then housed it in a filing cabinet I had found on the street and scrubbed out with vinegar to mostly remove the smell of cat piss. With that and a 300-baud modem, I started hanging out on the MIT machines — OZ, AI, MC, Deep Thought. The AI Lab at that time was happy to host anyone with a brain and a modem able to contribute in some way, and the machines were open to guests. I found the modem dialins and started poking around and creating accounts. The operating system allowed “wheels” (administrator-privileged people) to monitor and break in on user sessions, so one late night I found myself being interrogated by the now-famous Richard Stallman, aka “rms” in Unix style, who wanted to know what I was doing and why. Having passed the riddle of the Pigpen-Sphinx, I applied to return to MIT to finish my final year, which I spent in EECS studying with Hal Abelson, Gerry Sussman, Barbara Liskov, Steve Ward, Randy Davis, and others. My contact with the AI Lab itself was mostly visiting and logging into their machines, but I soaked up much of what was going on at the time — and thirty years later, the parts of then-current AI that are in common use are just thought of as software (one example being the postal service’s ability to recognize addresses), while the still-ongoing AI work is mostly ideas current in 1984 but extended and magnified by greater hardware capabilities. (As a side note, my profs of 1984 are mostly still in place at MIT, over thirty years later.)

My first jobs after MIT were as junior team member during the AI boom of 1985-87, working on projects at BBN and Symbolics funded by DARPA under the Strategic Computing Initiative, intended as a response to the competitive threat of Japan’s Fifth Generation project. Most of the AI community in the US thought the Japanese were naive in believing they could quickly leapfrog their way to machine intelligence — the Japan of the 1980s was prone to accept the work of flim-flam artists posing as researchers, as China is today. But no one in the US wanted to turn down funding for nifty projects….

When immediate results weren’t forthcoming and DARPA leadership changed after 1987, the plug was rather abruptly pulled on government and private funding for AI research, and the $100K Symbolics Lisp Machine workstations we all used were deprecated. Lisp machines were replaced by much cheaper Sun workstations with a new Lisp compiler that appeared to be faster for the money, even though the Sun workstations lacked the fabulous programming environment of the specialized Lisp Machines. Research teams disbanded, companies like Symbolics collapsed into bankruptcy, and the ideas we were pursuing again became academic pursuits with shoestring budgets. Programming environments as good as the Lisp Machine’s didn’t reappear for another decade.

The peak of the bubble was probably the IJCAI (International Joint Conference on AI) of 1985 at UCLA, where many of America’s largest corporations sent teams of their brightest to learn about the business-changing potentials of AI. This was not something computer scientist types were used to, and the dark-suited gaggles from IBM and GM mixed with rumpled academics in the audiences for the actual talks.

I was at BBN at the time, and we presented a paper on Multilisp running on our Butterfly multiprocessor, which had up to 256 Motorola 68000 processor boards. Each board had a local memory connected to others by a packet-switching backplane network to map memory fetches to either local or distant physical memory (photos below of the packet switching interconnect chip from DARPA’s MOSIS fab.)

BBN Butterfly Memory Internetworking Chip - 1984, MOSIS

BBN Butterfly Memory Interconnect Chip – 1984, MOSIS



Multilisp was a package borrowed from an MIT professor and ported by me/us to the Butterfly environment. Its key concept was called the future, a container carrying the result of a computation that would be worked on in parallel by one or more processors and could be passed around as an object, suspending the computation only if the result was actually required. This made use of lazy evaluation — we can talk about and pass around the result of a computation without actually looking at it until the moment its value is actually required.

My special interest was parallelizing resource-optimizing compilers — which I called PROCs — which would use the same principle, but structure the computation for parallelism in advance. I wrote up a proposal, but I was naive in the Japanese way — my proposal was more hope and armwaving than a concrete plan, so it was rejected.

Meanwhile, after the IJCAI conference talk by Geoff Hinton on neural networks, I found a big package of neural network simulation programs and started rewriting it for the Butterfly. When I ran the idea by my boss, he pointed out I had funded work to do and really couldn’t work on that in my free time, so I gave that up. Geoff Hinton moved to Google in 2013, and Google has now released its package of deep learning software for public experimentation, so thirty years later we are finally getting widespread use of neural networks — the idea had always been good, but the human ability to stick with it and build on advances was limited by slow machines and continual platform obsolescence and personnel changes. Now we have widespread commercial application of deep learning and big-money private research going into it, and results are everywhere — facial and scene recognition, language translation, medical imaging diagnosis… and, presumably, secret military work.

DARPA research was not super-secret — on the contrary, the academics and think tanks that do DARPA research are typically making their work public to advance the field. Most universities and institutes refuse truly secret research, which goes against their personnel rules and academic standards. But DARPA is funding basic and applied research that does lead to secret work on weapons and military systems using the knowledge gained, everything from coolant suits and troop communications networks to autonomous drones and battle mechs. One of the other projects at BBN while I was there was SIMNET — a tank battle simulator over the Internet. I wasn’t working on it, but I got to play with it a few times. Like the undersea sub-sound-sensing network we also worked on, SIMNET did require security clearances and it was used directly for training, but the ideas developed for it made it into civilian life as networked game engines:

The SIMNET-D (Developmental) program used simulation systems developed in the SIMNET program to perform experiments in weapon systems, concepts, and tactics. It became the Advanced Simulation Technology Demonstration (ADST) program. It fostered the creation of the Battle Labs across the US Army, including the Mounted Warfare TestBed at Ft Knox, Ky, the Soldier Battle Lab at Ft Benning, GA, the Air Maneuver Battle Lab at Ft Rucker, AL, the Fires Battle Lab at Ft Sill, OK….

One of the primary developers of the network for SIMNET, Rolland Waters, founded RTIME, Inc. in 1992, to provide to the game industry network engines. Sony (SCEA) bought RTIME in 2000 as the basis for their PS2 online game network. Other startups out of the BBN / Delta Graphics team include:

— MetaVR, Inc (W. Garth Smith), simulation and training, GIS systems

— MaK Technologies (Warren Katz and John Morrison), which continues to provide simulation software

— Reality by Design, Inc (Joanne West Metzger and Paul Metzger), simulation and training software and systems

— Zipper Interactive (Brian Soderberg), which developed the SOCOM PS2 game series and was also purchased by SCEA

— Wiz!Bang (Drew Johnston), another game developer. Drew Johnston currently is the Product Unit Manager (PUM) for the Windows Gaming Platform team at Microsoft.

The funding drought for AI research after 1987 is sometimes called the AI Winter, though the cycle of disillusionment and subsequent research funding cuts happened several times. The current boom seems more permanent, relying less on hopes and dreams and bringing forth commercially important applications.

There’s a detailed history of BBN and its many groundbreaking projects here. Like Xerox PARC and Bell Labs, research hothouses were disrupted by changes in business and increasing competition, making blue-sky R&D a luxury and leaving academic centers unchallenged.

Next installment: Smart weapons, autonomous weapons, knife missiles and assassin drones…..

Liberty-Oriented Fiction SALE — May 18-19, 2016


Credit – George Donnelly

Group sale on libertarian fiction May 18-19 (today and tomorrow, for those of you reading this May 18!) Over a dozen high-quality libertarianish reads for 99 cents, or FREE. Thanks to George Donnelly for organizing it. Click on the link below to go to the sale page to browse the titles:

The GIANT 99-cent Sale on Libertarian Novels is May 18-20

New Places to Find Great Science Fiction

Shrivers Kindle Cover

Shrivers Kindle Cover

Still looking for readers and reviewers for my latest book, Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3.

There’s also a group sale coming up, with over a dozen high-quality libertarianish reads for 99 cents. Thanks to George Donnelly for organizing it:

The GIANT 99-cent Sale on Libertarian Novels is May 18-20

Second, a new site for authors and readers featuring some strong independents and other authors of amazing work: Azounding!, where authors will announce their latest works and keep readers posted about upcoming sales.

“Black Mirror”

This post (“Grocers of Despair”) at According to Hoyt, along with recent discussions of the Human Wave movement in science fiction, got me to thinking.

I had read a glowing review of Black Mirror, a British Twilight-Zone-like TV series, and a list of the best episodes. I fired up Netflix and watched the supposedly best episode, “The Entire History of You,” about a troubled couple using the technology of life-recording to break up in the ugliest possible way. Now I’ve counselled couples who break into each other’s phones and this was much the same, but more horrific than even that could be.

It was well-written, powerful, and depressing. Let’s focus on awful people and show how technology can enable them to be *even* *more* *awful*!

Long-suffering partner threatened to take away my future votes for what to watch. He still blames me for “The Constant Gardener.” So I watched one more last night, “White Bear.” Again, awful people doing creepy things. Humans! Who would want to be like them?

There’s no denying these are really great — artful, like the best short stories. But minus any Human Wave sense of struggling to beat back the darkness.

Because being fully human has a *purpose*, if you are well-adjusted. It might be religious, it might be building Teilhard de Chardin’s Noosphere and reaching the Omega Point with as much knowledge as possible, it might be building the best world for your children’s children’s children. But there are positive goals to strive for, not just surviving and contending with other humans for a shrinking share of a shrinking world. Raising children is a risky exercise, and you do it when you have some faith in the future. Malthusian dread and belief in ever-darker futures kills off the will to fight and to win against those who would tear it all down.

Grimdark art has its place as leavening for the “uplifting” stories that keep us going; maybe 10% of our stories might be grim, to remind us of the power of despair. “1984” is to remind us of how to avoid that fate, not a prediction. As “liberal” changed meaning (in the US) to become the opposite of free, “progressive” has become a belief in limits and controlling others. Academia, freed of the need to satisfy an audience by government support, now promotes arts that discourage accomplishment and exploration of expanding frontiers. We are to be afraid, to cluster for safety, to see other humans as threatening and in need of control. And to look to our academic and government betters for guidance, to deliver us from evil.

It’s easy to despair when you are looking for a job or to publish your book and no one — literally no one — responds to your resume or submission. That’s when you get up and start your own business or self-publish. And regulators will try to stop you, legacy publishers will pretend you don’t exist, but customers will take a small chance on you, and if you listen to them, you can make it.

Substrate Wars: Loglines

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1

I’ll be going to a seminar at UCLA in a few weeks, a whole weekend of talking about story and marketing to publishers and other media (notably movies.) So I’m working over the synopses and pitches. One tool I’ve never used is the logline, a single-sentence description encapsulating the setting, protagonist, story problem, antagonist, and goal.

Here’s what I’ve come up with for the Substrate Wars series:

RED QUEEN: In a near-future US surveillance state, college students invent quantum gateways and have to fight Homeland Security to gain their freedom on a new planet.

NEMO’S WORLD: From their base on a new planet, rebels use their discovery of quantum gateways to steal all of Earth’s nuclear weapons and bring down Earth’s oppressive governments.

KALIKANS: As humanity expands to new colony worlds and enjoys an era of peace and prosperity, the new government has to fight a fleet of robotic destroyer ships to save humanity from extinction.

If you haven’t succumbed to my relentless marketing yet, you can still start reading it here.

Donation to Heinlein Society

Heinlein Society

Heinlein Society

The Heinlein Prize Trust (www.heinleinprize.com) is partnering with The Heinlein Society in the fundraising for the new Robert A. Heinlein bust to be displayed in the Missouri state capitol’s “Hall of Famous Missourians.” The Trust has pledged to match dollar-for-dollar contributions made by “Heinlein’s Children” to raise the necessary funds for the bust and associated plaque, pedestal, and ceremony.

I noticed their fundraising update showed they were still short, and realized I should contribute the rest. I owe Robert A. Heinlein an enormous debt — I grew up fatherless in Kansas City, his hometown, and his novels for young readers taught me more about being a good person, and a good man, than any other person or author. His work (and other science fiction) aimed me toward becoming a scientist, which inspired me to work to get into MIT. I’ve retired after a series of careers (rather like Heinlein himself) to write science fiction and fact, and I want his example to continue to inspire young people.

[Jeb Kinnison writes at JebKinnison.com and SubstrateWars.com, and his second science fiction novel, Nemo’s World, is “well-written science fiction that harkens back to the golden age of Heinlein and Asimov.” — IndieReader.]

“Bad Boyfriends” Reviewed by Indie Reader

Indie Reviews is the first major reviewer to get to the book. The reviewer understood what I was trying to do with it — I’m lucky. Four stars is high praise from them.

IR Verdict: BAD BOYFRIENDS offers some sensible and intelligent advice for those looking for a romantic relationship, or wondering why all their relationships seem to go sour.

Kinnison rightly attacks society’s emphasis on the hormonal/sexual state of being “in love” as a foundation for a long-term relationship or marriage, and encourages readers to seek a deeper, more intelligent connection between lovers and/or spouses. He shows, with empathy and perceptiveness, how different personality types are likely to interact, and what can be done in some cases to mitigate the negative effects of different insecurities and problems. His discussion of how to recognize and avoid a psychopath and/or an abusive mate is clear, precise, and firm. And the reader who takes nothing else away from the book should at least note his repeated advice to avoid anyone who has lots of exes, all of whom he or she describes as crazy or evil.

Kinnison does occasionally tend to oversimplify, as one must when categorizing personality types. The author also tends to put most of the blame for personality issues on bad parenting rather than on genetics or non-parental environmental influences, which is debatable but true to the attachment-theory perspective. The title’s gender-specificity might discourage straight men and lesbians from picking up the book, when in fact its advice is pretty gender-neutral. These minor problems, however, do not substantially interfere with the actual advice, which is generally sound.

Still at Amazon: Kindle version link and paperback version link. IR Approved Sticker 2

IR Approved Sticker 2
Full Review here.

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