Technology Notes: The Bad and the Good


WASHINGTON, DC, Aug 13 — Technology can help us achieve amazing goals. It can make our lives safer. But it can also be very scary, according to the Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC].

“Leave it to the Russians to be hard at work developing a piece of the ‘very scary’ kind of technology — so-called killer robots. 

They haven’t got it quite right yet, but their goal is to produce autonomous weaponry for the battlefield. It may sound like something out of a bad science fiction movie, but the fact is that they are already in the field testing stage of development,” says AMAC.

The United Nations is concerned enough that it is arguing with the Russians about the need for some sort of regulation regarding ethical concerns. The U.S. is also developing remote control war-ware, but, unlike the Russians, we have a focus on ensuring its ethical use in battle.  

In fact, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point has a dedicated robotics program, and a recent Washington Post feature on that program noted, “The future may well be shaped by computer algorithms dictating how weapons move and target enemies. And the cadets’ uncertainty about how much authority to give the robots and how to interact with them in conflict mirrors the broader military’s ambivalence about whether and where to draw a line on letting war machines kill on their own. Such autonomous machines were once so far beyond the technical grasp of scientists that debating their ethics was merely an intellectual exercise. But as the technology has caught up to the idea, that debate has become very real.”

But not all new technological developments are about death and destruction, says AMAC. For example, the association points to a program that claims it can end drunk driving, saving as many as 10,000 lives a year. The fact of the matter is that some 30 people are killed by drunk drivers every day, and almost 800 a day [290,000 a year] are hurt in accidents caused by drunk drivers. And the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety [DADSS] program claims that its technology can put an end to the carnage.

The DADSS is a collaboration of automakers and the U.S. Department of Transportation that is developing two ways to stop a drunk driver from starting up their car. One technology would equip automobiles with hidden breathalyzers that automatically determine alcohol levels by analyzing normal breathing as the driver sits down at the wheel. It can tell the difference between the driver’s breath and that of any passenger. 

The other new technology checks alcohol levels as the driver grips the steering wheel using an infrared scan of blood levels in the driver’s fingertips. If too much alcohol is detected, it would prevent the car from starting.

How close are they to production? Congress is considering a new law that would require all new cars to be equipped with drunk driver technology by 2027.

Finally, AMAC reports that the U.S. Navy will soon have an aircraft that can stay in the air for three months without needing to refuel. 

The Interesting Engineering Website says, “in order to stay airborne for so long, the 236-foot wingspan aircraft houses 2,900 square feet (269.4188 meters) of photovoltaic cells, allowing it to generate up to 2 kilowatts of power. Skydweller Aero also plans to fit its aircraft with hydrogen fuel cells as a backup in case the solar energy harvesting plane goes through a prolonged spell of bad weather.”

Skydweller Aero is a U.S.-Spanish aerospace firm, and the technology it is using for its new “giant drone” is based on its Solar Impulse 2, a piloted craft that was flown non-stop around the world in 2015 and 2016.

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