DARPA-funded researchers have created a drone that can learn. What could go wrong?

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Nov 4, 2014, 4:05 PM EST

Scientists funded by the cutting-edge military tech weapons think tank DARPA have created a functioning drone with a chipset so advanced it can literally “learn” during missions. Hello, Skynet. In the air. Possibly with missiles.

Though it all sounds very sci-fi and scary, the test is also a fairly awesome development in the use of neuromorphic chips, designed to mimic a biological cortex. Or, as Gizmodo put it more simply, a brain chip.

Thankfully, the initial test didn’t include a robo-warbird armed to the teeth with air-to-ground missiles, but instead placed 576 silicon neurons on a tiny drone prototype. The tech allowed the drone to communicate through spikes in electricity and respond to optical, infrared and ultrasound sensors. You know, kind of like our brain works as it processes sights and sounds.

The basic premise of the test and its implications are explained in this excerpt from MIT’s Technology Review:

The first time the drone was flown into each room, the unique pattern of incoming sensor data from the walls, furniture, and other objects caused a pattern of electrical activity in the neurons that the chip had never experienced before. That triggered it to report that it was in a new space, and also caused the ways its neurons connected to one another to change, in a crude mimic of learning in a real brain. Those changes meant that next time the craft entered the same room, it recognized it and signaled as such.

So, yeah, that’s pretty awesome. In a real-world environment (a few dozen development cycles down the line, of course), this tech could essentially allow an unmanned drone to process its surroundings and decide what to fly over, surveil or shoot at depending on what it “sees.” So, uh, welcome to the future?

(Via Gizmodo)