US Air Force denies report of AI-powered UAV attacking operator

The U.S. Air Force has walked back comments reportedly made by a colonel regarding a simulation in which a drone outwitted its artificial intelligence training and killed its handler. This was attributed to Col. Tucker “Cinco” Hamilton, the chief of AI testing and operations, in a recap from the Royal Aeronautical Society’s FCAS23 Summit in May. 

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Hamilton's assessment of the plausibility of rogue-drone scenarios coincides with warnings from tech executives and engineers that the technology has the potential to wipe out humanity if left unchecked. The Air Force is investing billions of dollars in artificial intelligence projects, including several tied to major weapon systems. The Air Force is ramping up efforts to field autonomous or semiautonomous drones, which it refers to as collaborative combat aircraft, to fly alongside F-35 jets and a future fighter.


The Air Force's proposed budget for FY24 includes new spending to help it prepare for a future with drone wingmen, including a program called Project Venom to help the service experiment with its autonomous flying software in F-16 fighters. The Air Force plans to spend $120 million on Project Venom over the next five years, including a $50 million budget request for FY24. 


Former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James warned that the service must be cautious and consider ethical questions as it moves towards conducting warfare with autonomous systems. She doubted the Air Force would allow an autonomous system to shift from one target to another on its own.

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