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The United States military is embracing virtual reality and other advanced technologies in an effort to better train soldiers. The US Air Force and NATO allies will soon participate in the Red Flag mock battles event, though the 2015 edition will utilize a fully virtual war environment.
The test will utilize Live-Virtual Constructive (LVC) integration, using physical trucks on the Nellis Air Force Base to create a more dynamic target mission.
"The benefits to the warfighter of integrating 'virtual' into Red Flags are that it allows us to bring in more of the combat-realistic threat envelope, and we're now able to maximize the air tasking order with the most amount of 'Blue Forces' in both the virtual and live sides of a joint air operations area that is 1,200 by 1,100 nautical miles, compared to the Nevada Test and Training Range which is about 100 by 100 nautical miles," said Lt. Col. Kenneth Voigt, commander of the 505th Test Squadron, in a statement.
The US military is conducting studies in South Africa and found that elephants possess a great natural ability to sniff out explosives. The increasingly endangered animals picked out samples laced with TNT 73 out of 74 times - and wrongly identified just 18 out of 502 buckets, yielding a 3.6 percent error rate.
During the test, elephants were rewarded with fruit if they were able to accurately identify samples of TNT and lift a front leg. The second test saw the elephants accurately pick 23 out of 23 buckets, despite the use of soap, gasoline, tea, bleach, and other "distractor odors" used. In the past, elephants were able to instinctively avoid fields in Africa which were littered with land mines used in previous battles.
Since trying to take elephants to the battlefield would present a logistical nightmare, military officials are trying to find ways to take soil samples to the animals.
Syrian military forces reportedly shot down an unarmed MQ-1 Predator drone that was being used to conduct surveillance. The US military confirmed it "lost contact" with a drone that was flying over northwest Syria, though additional details remain scarce.
"As soon as it entered Syrian air space, we considered it to be gathering security and military information on Syria's territory," a Syrian government source told the AFP. "The aircraft entered areas where Daesh is not present."
Although the US confirmed they lost contact with a drone, there has been no confirmation if it was actually shot down.
"At this time, we have no information to corroborate press reports that the aircraft was shot down," a US military official told the AFP. "We are looking into the incident and will provide more details when available."
Now is the time for chief information officers (CIOs) and other business leaders to begin developing ethical programming protocols for smart machines, according to the Gartner research group.
Smart machines must build - and maintain - trust with human counterparts, and it will take ethical programming to ensure that happens. One day, it will be up to the machine to be self-aware and understand that it is responsible for its own behavior - but humans must be able to program them to adapt to these changes, Gartner believes.
"Clearly, people must trust smart machines if they are to accept and use them," said Frank Buytendijk, research VP at Gartner. "The ability to earn trust must be part of any plan to implement artificial intelligence (AI) or smart machines, and will be an important selling point when marketing this technology."
Google's Eric Schmidt isn't too worried about artificial intelligence potentially trying to end human civilization anytime in the near future. Even with Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and other well-known tech visionaries showing AI concern, Schmidt believes humanity will be secure for the immediate future as AI developments continue.
"I think that this technology will ultimately be one of the greatest forces for good in mankind's history simply because it makes people smarter," said Eric Schmidt, Google Chairman, during a SXSW keynote address. "I'm certainly not worried in the next 10 to 20 years about that. We're still in the baby step of understanding things. We've made tremendous progress in respect to [artificial intelligence]."
AI is used in smartphones, tablets, PCs, vehicles, and countless other products and services currently available - and will continue to expand in the years to come. Google is one of the companies at the forefront of AI, and Schmidt wants to reduce concerns that AI will one day try to fight back against humans.
The Ukrainian government will receive Humvees and small aerial drones from the United States, as part of a $75 million non-lethal aid package. It is unknown how many drones will be sent, but 30 heavily armored Humvees and 200 standard vehicles will be provided.
Specifically, Ukrainian forces will receive the AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven drone, a small hand-launched unit capable of flying at 500 feet altitude and up to 6.2 miles. The drones will be used for surveillance, defense of ground troops, and to improve radio communications for soldiers fighting suspected Russian-backed separatists.
"This new assistance is part of our ongoing efforts to help sustain Ukraine's defense and internal security operations and resist further aggression," a senior Obama administration said, in a statement published by the Washington Post.
Researchers are looking for new methods to make robots more autonomous, as NASA launches missions on distant planets and moons. Communication between ground operators and robots would take hours even at the speed of light, so robots need to be fairly autonomous. Researchers want robots to be able to identify and avoid danger, while figuring out where to travel on their own.
The Red planet of Mars pushes the boundaries of how humans are able to control robots, and anything further presents more logistical problems. It would be ideal for robots to be able to accurately detect the physical environment and analyze unique points that could be further studied by researchers.
"The amount of data is a problem. You can't be streaming HD video from Mars all the time, live, down to Earth," said Yogesh Girdhar, postdoctoral scholar at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in a statement published by Space.com. "The same thing happens underwater. There are no radio waves. Because of salt water, you can only use an acoustic modem."
People heading to Austin for South by Southwest are urged to have fun, but drone flights have been banned over the festival. The decision was made after event organizers spoke with drone experts, user groups, municipal authorities and aviation safety experts, according to a press release by SXSW.
The event kicks off today and runs through March 22, with an interactive festival, film and music venues planned for the popular event.
"While SXSW may make exceptions to this policy if the drones are used within certain trade show areas where safety measures, such as tethering to the ground are implemented, the airwaves and/or frequency spectrums generally used in the remote control of drones are too congested during the SXSW event to ensure operation safe from interference," according to the SXSW press release.
Google has reportedly reached a milestone in its artificial intelligence research, showing off an algorithm that could beat a human being playing Atari video games. Not only playing it, but it was learning from the experience, just as we would, according to a paper published by Nature last week.
Demis Hassabis, one of the authors from the paper said: "We can go all the way from pixels to actions as we call it and actually it can work on a challenging task that even humans find difficult. We know now we're on the first rung of the ladder and it's a baby step, but I think it's an important one". The team started their work at DeepMind, which is the London-based start up that Google acquired back in January 2014. When they joined Google, they began looking at ways of baking their intelligence into Google products.
The researchers then began working with Atari games, which had more complicated 3D environments, which Hassabis says the algorithm would be able to beat those games within the next five years. Hassabis added: "Ultimately the idea is that if this algorithm can race a car in a racing game then also essentially with a few extra tweaks it should be able to drive a real car. But that's again, even further away than that".
Earlier in the week, the US Secret Service said it will conduct drone exercises near the White House and throughout the Washington, D.C. area. The tests are expected over the next few weeks, but times, dates and locations for the exercises weren't made available.
Ironically, it's a decision that comes weeks after a drunk federal employee crashed his drone on White House property. Although it was ultimately a harmless incident, it revealed a potential threat with more drones taking to the skies.
The Secret Service didn't offer very many details and only offered this statement:
"The United States Secret Service, in conjunction with other inter-agency partners, will conduct a series of exercises involving unmanned aircraft systems, in the coming days and weeks.