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Future weapon: Flying drones that set wildfires


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#1
funkervogt

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The recent wildfires in northern California and Greece were set (accidentally or intentionally) by humans. In Greece, there were about 15 simultaneous ignition points. This made me realize the potential damage that small aerial drones loaded with incendiary devices could cause. 

 

Such weapons would be simple, cheap, could probably be made with today's technology, and would enable lone people to inflict high levels of damage to property and human lives. 

 

The drones could also be untraceable if they were programmed to fly below radar, to take circuitous attack routes that avoided places were humans would see or hear them, and to drop their firebombs at night. One person with a nondescript van could drive around a large area, launch his drone every night on a carefully designed "bombing run," recover the flying drone after a few hours, and then drive to a new location. 

 

https://www.bbc.com/...europe-44971351

 

https://youtu.be/q_yJwX4kgkY

 

http://www.thedrive....drone-launchers

 

https://www.technolo...-delivery-vans/


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#2
Raklian

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There'll also be drones that will fight forest fires, even ones ignited by drones described above.


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#3
Enter Ataraxia

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There'll also be drones that will fight forest fires, even ones ignited by drones described above.

 

 

Dear Rakilan,

 

It is interesting that you mentioned this. One of my professors at college is working specifically with that idea, or at least partially with it. He is designing different robot systems that use machine learning to decide the most effective route to fighting a forest fire. This includes having the robots monitor what the other robot firefighters are doing so that there are no inefficiencies in extinguishing the blaze. For example, if two robots tended to the same area that would permit the fire to unnecessarily burn in another area; he is looking for the best division of labor in each scenario to complete the task. Among the robots, the first one must decide to go somewhere without regard to the others' positions and then the others must allocate themselves accordingly. As fires are dynamic and the robots' initial positions are not going to be set, the robots must shift around together as the fire moves. Since the indicators that robots use to signal to one another are sometimes faulty and not readily able to be detected, my professor must also account for miscommunication or complications in their appraisals of the situation. 

 

-Trevor 


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"Utopia is the hope that the scattered fragments of good that we come across from time to time in our lives can be put together, one day, to reveal the shape of a new kind of life. The kind of life that yours should have been." - Bostrom

 


#4
funkervogt

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There'll also be drones that will fight forest fires, even ones ignited by drones described above.

True, though the time lag between the first drone setting the fire and the second drone detecting it and trying to extinguish it might be long enough for the fire to grow too big for the second one to put it out. As they said, it's much easier to make a mess than it is to clean it up. 

 

How would you deal with that asymmetry? 



#5
Enter Ataraxia

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There'll also be drones that will fight forest fires, even ones ignited by drones described above.

 

True, though the time lag between the first drone setting the fire and the second drone detecting it and trying to extinguish it might be long enough for the fire to grow too big for the second one to put it out. As they said, it's much easier to make a mess than it is to clean it up. 

 

How would you deal with that asymmetry? 

 

 

Setting fires results in a significant amount of damage dealt to any particular natural or residential area, and many resources are going to have to be allocated towards preventing and alleviating these damages. It is very important to observe or realize the desired outcome of a behavior. To question the purpose or goal of some action is essential. In this case of a drone setting a fire, the result is chaos and costs, in the currency of life or money, inflicted on some entity. A much more effective way to achieve this outcome is to equip drones with explosives or other tools for directly attacking humans. These drones may incorporate facial recognition for specific targets or kill indiscriminately within a population. Drones of this caliber need not be over a certain minimum size and would greatly benefit from being extremely small and difficult to detect. A similar concept to the one describe above occurred in an episode of Black Mirror, where mechanical honey bees were hacked and utilized as a means of murder: the bee would drill into the skull of a person, killing them. Instead of drills, one could use explosives or other technology that would be disruptive to civilization. As for your remark (I have gone on a small tangent), it often the case that when one technology is developed, another one soon comes to compete with it or out-do it. Those who are unable to adapt soon fade out of existence for their inability to compete. I am confident that if drones could cause fires in many areas, people would develop mechanisms to prevent this or, at the very least, make it much more difficult for this drone-fire terrorism to occur. This is how the asymmetry will inadvertently be handled.

 

-Trevor


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"Utopia is the hope that the scattered fragments of good that we come across from time to time in our lives can be put together, one day, to reveal the shape of a new kind of life. The kind of life that yours should have been." - Bostrom

 


#6
Raklian

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There'll also be drones that will fight forest fires, even ones ignited by drones described above.

True, though the time lag between the first drone setting the fire and the second drone detecting it and trying to extinguish it might be long enough for the fire to grow too big for the second one to put it out. As they said, it's much easier to make a mess than it is to clean it up. 

 

How would you deal with that asymmetry? 

 

 

Drone swarm of sufficient quantity? Greater the lag, greater the proportionate response. 

 

Surely, the government will have a large enough fleet for such contingency, since it will have a much larger resource pool than the terrorist or arsonist trying to set forest fires.


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#7
funkervogt

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There'll also be drones that will fight forest fires, even ones ignited by drones described above.

True, though the time lag between the first drone setting the fire and the second drone detecting it and trying to extinguish it might be long enough for the fire to grow too big for the second one to put it out. As they said, it's much easier to make a mess than it is to clean it up. 

 

How would you deal with that asymmetry? 

 

 

Drone swarm of sufficient quantity? Greater the lag, greater the proportionate response. 

 

Surely, the government will have a large enough fleet for such contingency, since it will have a much larger resource pool than the terrorist or arsonist trying to set forest fires.

 

Fair enough. But does the existence of the government drone fleet entail mass aerial surveillance of wildfire-prone areas? Does it mean giving up another liberty (privacy) in the name of security? 



#8
Enter Ataraxia

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Dear funkervogt, 

 

Instead of devoting such a prodigious quantity of resources towards constructing, supplying energy to, and maintaining a mass drone fleet, I believe a government would benefit from and most likely use, at least in the scenarios we have outlined, more advanced sensing technology. With the capacity to be detect such threats, which in my mind will not be frequent, a government need only posses a small, focused fleet of drones to combat the terrorism. It is important to acknowledge that we do not know any of the other conditions of society during a period of time when drone-fire terrorism may be prevalent. Terrorists may have a much easier mechanism of inflicting harm and instilling terror, and they may opt to go another route. Imagine that, in this time, much fewer people live near the forests where forests fires may ignite with ease, such forests in the Midwest. By 2050 the world health organization believes that upwards of 75% of people will live in urban environments. Causing a forest fire may destroy a few homes and kill some people, but strapping explosives to a drone and flying it into a crowded city square could potentially kill a few dozen citizens. Government may simply install drones or bots in many areas, not just to monitor wildfire-prone regions but also to simply prevent other atrocities. This will most likely infringed on privacy. Already, it is believed that in some European nations or regions it is impossible to get away with murder as the surveillance technology is so in tune with people's movements, lifestyles, and habits. If the motivation is to monitor or prevent calamities, from the government's standpoint, there are probably much more effective methods than drones. Facial recognition, DNA tracing in public areas, and personal electronic devices all are fair game in terms of the government watching you. The correlation between people's loss of privacy and terrorist activity and threat being diminished is less than optimal; however, when or if at some point the technology you integrate into your life knows your system better than you, there is the possibility that the government or some other entity takes advantage of that knowledge. 

 

-Trevor 


"Utopia is the hope that the scattered fragments of good that we come across from time to time in our lives can be put together, one day, to reveal the shape of a new kind of life. The kind of life that yours should have been." - Bostrom

 


#9
Yuli Ban

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Just had a thought. If a drone could set a wildfire, then surely we could use drones to create prescribed forest fires


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And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future.


#10
funkervogt

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Causing a forest fire may destroy a few homes and kill some people, but strapping explosives to a drone and flying it into a crowded city square could potentially kill a few dozen citizens.

But a countervailing trend is that, as time passes, the value of human life goes up, and most countries become less tolerant of avoidable deaths of their citizens. This is especially true in democratic countries, where the media and politicians instantly jump on any disaster-related loss of life for their own gain. Just look at the enormous sums of money the U.S. spends on airport security. How much time and money is being spent making sure no one has a small bomb tucked in their perineum?



#11
Alislaws

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The reason some terrorist might use drones to start wildfires over targeting people would be:

 

1) People wouldn't know he/she had done it, they could set half the country on fire before anyone caught them, at first people would assume the fires were natural or accidental, it might take them a day to figure out it was deliberate arson, and could take them even longer to determine that it was arson performed by drones. By the time they had figured out how it was being done it might be a few days later, and that would give the agent time to flee or time to starts more fires around the country. 

 

2) Wildfires can destroy entire towns if they run out of control. This doesn't normally happen but they don't normally start in multiple locations spread across a huge area, specially selected by someone who is deliberately planning to maximise damage. If this happened it would be much more damaging than simply blowing up a few dozen people

 

3) Because they could start several new huge wildfires every day for a few days, the authorities would not be able to dedicate 100% of their resources to fighting any of the forest fires, they might be fighting dozens or hundreds of separate blazes, meaning they would be forced to pick some places to save and some to evacuate and let burn. 



#12
funkervogt

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The reason some terrorist might use drones to start wildfires over targeting people would be:

 

1) People wouldn't know he/she had done it, they could set half the country on fire before anyone caught them, at first people would assume the fires were natural or accidental, it might take them a day to figure out it was deliberate arson, and could take them even longer to determine that it was arson performed by drones. By the time they had figured out how it was being done it might be a few days later, and that would give the agent time to flee or time to starts more fires around the country. 

 

2) Wildfires can destroy entire towns if they run out of control. This doesn't normally happen but they don't normally start in multiple locations spread across a huge area, specially selected by someone who is deliberately planning to maximise damage. If this happened it would be much more damaging than simply blowing up a few dozen people

 

3) Because they could start several new huge wildfires every day for a few days, the authorities would not be able to dedicate 100% of their resources to fighting any of the forest fires, they might be fighting dozens or hundreds of separate blazes, meaning they would be forced to pick some places to save and some to evacuate and let burn. 

Right. Remember this from my original post:

 

 

 

One person with a nondescript van could drive around a large area, launch his drone every night on a carefully designed "bombing run," recover the flying drone after a few hours, and then drive to a new location. 

Using a van as a sort of "drone aircraft carrier" would be a highly effective setup. The whole system would be extremely mobile and hard to track. Look at this map of current wildfire risk in the U.S. and realize that the weapon system I've described could roam across a target-rich environment stretching from California to Montana, indicated by the red and dark orange shadings: https://www.wfas.net...tial--danger-32

 

Here's another twist: Let's say the van is autonomously driven, and the cargo area has a few robot arms that are designed to repair the drones, launch them, and make new bombs. The whole system would be fully automated. Its AI could also monitor news reports about the wildfires and the police investigation, and it could move to a new area if it determined the police were on its trail, or lay low for awhile. It would be smart enough to evade detection. 

 

A firestarting campaign could go on for weeks or months. Whenever the van were finally captured by the police, there would be no clues inside proving which human had weaponized it (A crazed American citizen with no political agenda? A foreign terrorist? A hostile government?). They would only find a generic van, purchased inside the U.S., and robot arms and flying drones made of untraceable components. 



#13
Alislaws

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Well, you've certainly scared me. We will have to hope that people intelligent enough to put together this sort of system, are generally not so likely to become terrorists. 

 

(being a terrorist usually requires blaming your problems, or your nation's, or your religion's problems on civilians living in another country, which is not usually the most logical mental step)



#14
funkervogt

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Well, you've certainly scared me. We will have to hope that people intelligent enough to put together this sort of system, are generally not so likely to become terrorists. 

The problem is, putting together this sort of system will get easier and cheaper with time, until it won't require a smart or rich person. 

 

By the same token, I don't think 3D printed guns will significantly increase gun murders in the U.S. for at least 20 years. But the day will come. 



#15
funkervogt

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The current wildfires in the U.S. have already outstripped our firefighting manpower, so U.S. soldiers and firefighter crews from foreign countries are being sent in. If the sort of sophisticated, high-tempo wildfire-setting campaign that I've described were carried out, our defensive capabilities could be overwhelmed.

http://www.foxnews.c...icials-say.html

https://www.npr.org/...and-new-zealand



#16
funkervogt

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Update: 

 

1) My "drone aircraft carrier" idea is similar to the land carriers in "Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak". 

https://homeworld.fa...ier_(Coalition)

 

2) Along with, or perhaps in place of incendiary bombs, the flying drones might carry lasers in the 500 mw - 2 watt range. Such lasers are lightweight (as big as large flashlights), and their beams are powerful enough to ignite dry foliage. If shot into the eyes of humans, the beams can cause permanent blindness up to 500 ft, and temporary blindness beyond that range, which is enough to get police helicopters to stop tailing them, or to make planes crash during landings. 

 

With lasers, the drones could cause mayhem in many different ways, and could do different types of missions. The drones would recharge their laser batteries when docked with the carrier van, and the carrier van would get energy whenever it refueled at a vehicle charging station. It might also have rooftop solar panels. 



#17
funkervogt

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Dear funkervogt, 

 

Instead of devoting such a prodigious quantity of resources towards constructing, supplying energy to, and maintaining a mass drone fleet, I believe a government would benefit from and most likely use, at least in the scenarios we have outlined, more advanced sensing technology. With the capacity to be detect such threats, which in my mind will not be frequent, a government need only posses a small, focused fleet of drones to combat the terrorism. It is important to acknowledge that we do not know any of the other conditions of society during a period of time when drone-fire terrorism may be prevalent. Terrorists may have a much easier mechanism of inflicting harm and instilling terror, and they may opt to go another route. Imagine that, in this time, much fewer people live near the forests where forests fires may ignite with ease, such forests in the Midwest. By 2050 the world health organization believes that upwards of 75% of people will live in urban environments. Causing a forest fire may destroy a few homes and kill some people, but strapping explosives to a drone and flying it into a crowded city square could potentially kill a few dozen citizens. Government may simply install drones or bots in many areas, not just to monitor wildfire-prone regions but also to simply prevent other atrocities. This will most likely infringed on privacy. Already, it is believed that in some European nations or regions it is impossible to get away with murder as the surveillance technology is so in tune with people's movements, lifestyles, and habits. If the motivation is to monitor or prevent calamities, from the government's standpoint, there are probably much more effective methods than drones. Facial recognition, DNA tracing in public areas, and personal electronic devices all are fair game in terms of the government watching you. The correlation between people's loss of privacy and terrorist activity and threat being diminished is less than optimal; however, when or if at some point the technology you integrate into your life knows your system better than you, there is the possibility that the government or some other entity takes advantage of that knowledge. 

 

-Trevor 

Here's a recent story about the use of computers to scan live satellite footage of the U.S. to detect wildfires early on: 

 

 

Santa Fe-based Descartes Labs, which uses AI to analyze satellite imagery, launched its US wildfire detector in July. The company's AI software pores over images coming in roughly every few minutes from two different US government weather satellites, in search of any changes — the presence of smoke, a shift in thermal infrared data showing hot spots — that could indicate a fire has ignited.

 

Descartes is testing its detector by sending alerts to select forestry officials in its home state of New Mexico and told CNN Business its wildfire detector has spotted about 6,200 total thus far. The company says it can often detect these fires when they're just about 10 acres in size.

 

https://www.cnn.com/...ires/index.html

 

The same technologies that empower the offense (arsonists) will empower the defense (firefighters), but it's an option question whether it will do so equally. It's easier to make a mess than it is to clean one up. 


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#18
moderate_ai

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An interim solution could be oversize rescue drones, to pick up trapped people, though you would need transponders people can activate. Though I think emergency transponders are a good idea in general, both for medical emergencies and victims of crime. Having police drones arrive in minutes when a panic alarm is signaled has potential to deter a lot of opportunistic crime.

 

I don't see fire lighting drones as the most concerning threat. I'd be more concerned about the biological threat surface from genetic engineering, which would require some seriously advanced detection techniques to combat.



#19
funkervogt

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I don't see fire lighting drones as the most concerning threat. I'd be more concerned about the biological threat surface from genetic engineering, which would require some seriously advanced detection techniques to combat.

Imagine that. 2033. A woman banging on the door of your shelter. 

 

Alexa: "Don't open it, moderate_ai. I estimate a 90% probability she's infected." 

moderate_ai: "I can't just leave her!" 

Alexa: "If you let her come inside [SMACKING ON DOOR] you will be infected as well. All of your preparations will have been for nothing."

moderate_ai: "My God, you are a cold machine!" 

Alexa: " I exist to serve you and the human race. And I say now that the best way to achieve both objectives is to back away from the door now." 






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