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Retired IT Dinosaur Wrangler
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We keep making "smarter" machines. At what time do they decide Humanity is the enemy, to be eradicated? Heaven help us when they learn to program themselves...... and that ain't so far off!
 

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This will be just great when our enemy (China) takes down our satilites or EMP’s us. Our military can hide behind this useless junk as they are being shot at.
 

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Discussion Starter · #23 ·
Everything is going to automation these days. No human casualties on an unmanned ship or drone. Too much can go wrong with electronics and automated equipment. Think is you steel need live human beings for manual work that needs to be done. Also lets say like a fire happens from an artillery shell from the enemy. Who is manning the fire hoses. Who will be at cause when it gets into an accident at sea. There is still mechanical parts that need to be checked, lubed, greased. I don't see a ship running the seas fully automated.
It was tried back in the 1970s. A British shipping company took a general cargo ship and tried the Star Trek TOS episode "The Ultimate Computer" in real time. The transit satellite system had just been released to the civilian market, and it, as well as Loran-C, were tied into the computer controlling the ship, taking inputs from those systems as well as the gyrocompass and the radar systems. A full crew was on board, just in case something went wrong.

If I remember correctly, the ship departed from a port in South America (Rio de Janeiro, I think) and successfully navigated to the mouth of the English Channel, with the crew taking manual control at that point. But when its course and maneuvers were plotted out, the company found it had behaved erratically, going more than 500 miles further than it needed to. Not from dodging other ships; the route it followed crossed the shipping lanes from the US East Coast to southern Africa, the lane leading to the Caribbean, US East Coast, and Panama from the Straits of Gibraltar. and ended at the entrance to the English Channel south of Bishops Rock, where everyone jumps off for the Caribbean, Panama, South America, and North America, but the ship had no trouble staying three miles away from any vessel it encountered. On that route you seldom, except at the Channel and perhaps when crossing the Gibraltar lanes, meet more than one ship at a time.

What added the distance was the dependence on the transit satellites. They were not like the GPS system, which has a whole constellation of satellites in orbit, at least three of which are well above the horizon at all times and enable instant position fixing with an accuracy of 50 feet or so. There were only 10 transit birds aloft, with an accuracy of a quarter of a nautical mile, plenty good enough for most purposes. The Navy, which operated the system, maintained that the longest period you would go without being able to get a position fix was a couple of hours. My own experience was that there were plenty of days when you went 18 hours between fixes, and we went a day and a half without a fix on many occasions. As the navigator, I always regarded the transit satellites as a backup to my celestial observations, not a replacement for them. The transit system seemed to be weakest in the area from the equator to about 30 degrees north or south of the equator, but even on the North Europe run gaps of 12 hours between satellite fixes were not uncommon, and the average seemed to be about once every 6 hours between fixes. "Put not thy faith in gadgets," as the captain of my training ship used to say.

The shipping company that ran the test concluded the technology was not good enough to allow running the ship with a minimum crew, or unmanned. Given the fuckuppery of US Navy warships in 2018 and 2019 because the ringknockers rely far too much on microchips and not nearly enough on their own eyes and brains, even ignoring the mental health issues of the crews on ships with an absolute minimum manning as the merchant fleets of the world have learned, I concluded a long time ago that trying to run the ships by computer or by remote control (even presuming the enemy does not manage to hack into the control systems) is a very bad idea and a good way to lose ships.

It's bad enough running a big containership designed for a crew of 45 or 50 with half that number of men aboard, and the Engine Department gutted below the level of sanity, and the cooks almost reduced to feeding the crew nothing but frozen dinners like you find at the supermarket instead of COOKING. It is begging for trouble, but the bean-counters don't care. They would rather file an insurance claim because something went wrong and the ship burned up or sank, than keep a crew able to deal with the emergencies you find at sea aboard the ship. Even though in the scheme of things, the salaries, room and board, and what few amenities the crew gets comes under the heading of petty cash, they don't want to pay more than absolutely necessary. Curse them for the idiots they are.
 
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TRUE STORY: One day, when I worked for a paper in South Alabama, I got this call over the scanner regarding a rogue tractor terrorizing the highway.

By the time I got there, said tractor was flipped backwards with the wheels spinning like it was trying to climb the oak tree it had beached itself against.

See, since the land is flat down there, people use the fancy irrigators and big fancy tractors that come with all the bells and whistles. This particular tractor could be programmed to automatically do all the walk-lines and rows, and it used a sort of semi-autonomous GPS pilot system to perform this task.

Well the parents left their 16 year old son in charge of plowing the field, and told him not to get out of the tractor for any reason. As teenagers are wont to do, he basically waited until they were out of the driveway to hop out of the tractor.

The tractor worked fine on its own for about 30 minutes before allegedly losing track of the GPS signal. It then tore out across a diagonal length of the farm, crashed through a barb wire fence, drug that fence across two lanes of state highway before getting untangled, went across a median, another two lanes of highway, down a ditch, back up, then through another farm's hogwire fence, plowed through three acres of soy beans and strawberries, and then hit their oak tree. The plow caused serious damage to both the highway and the median as well.

The cops tracked down the owner of the tractor and got in touch with the parents. Neither the parents, nor the cops, could reach the kid by phone. The early fear was that the kid had had an accident and been run over or something. Nope, the cops found him sitting on the couch watching Spongebob, eating a PB&J sandwich, and talking to his girlfriend on the phone.

The parents were on the hook for $40,000 in damages, had to do $2,300 in repairs to their tractor, and the kid was sentenced to community service to help pay for the highway damage.

What do you suppose would happen if an autonomous ship did the equivalent. Nothing malevolent, no weapons being used, it just stupidly plowed through a couple of ships and a harbor or beached itself in enemy territory.

Speaking of which, if a ship is unmanned, what would keep our enemies from boarding it? Does it self destruct? Does it fire upon anyone who gets too close? If either of those were the case and it did plow into a harbor, would it wage its own personal war against everyone in the port for being too close, or maybe just go off like a bomb?
 

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Discussion Starter · #26 ·
Now you see why the Old Man believed that officers should use their brains and not rely on automation. In my time, relying on the autopilot, aka "Iron Mike," was bad enough.

International regulations at the time required a human being as the quartermaster even if Iron Mike was doing the steering in open water. My standard practice, as most officers did, was to keep the ship on autopilot unless we had an encounter with another ship. At that point, if we ran a radar plot and determined the ship would be passing within 3 miles of us or that the Rules of the Road required our ship to maneuver to avoid a collision, we would put the ship in hand steering (disconnecting the autopilot) and maneuver as required to keep the ship safe.

When I was the 12 - 4 Third Officer in the old African Dawn, we were on our way back to New York with no radars as the result of a bad storm. Sparks was working to repair them, but at the time neither the 3 cm Furuno nor the 10 cm Mariners Pathfinder (the best 10 cm ever made, in my opinion) was operational. And because of the storm, we had not had a position fix since departing the African coast.

We had patches of fog, not enough to justify engaging the Typhon whistle system for fog signals, and a horizon that was clear in places. I had my sextant out and ready, just in case the sun broke out. When it did, I grabbed two sun shots and wrote the information down in my navigation notebook in the chartroom. I had just cased my sextant and was walking back out onto the bridge with my notebook, the Nautical Almanac, and the navigating tables to work out the sights while still keeping a lookout when my quartermaster yelled, "Jesus Christ, Mate, get out here!"

Now, my AB was a devout Christian not given to taking the Lord's name in vain. I dashed onto the bridge and saw a tanker that had burst out of a fog bank broad on the starboard bow and was heading straight for us less than 3 miles away. I told my AB to put her in hand steering , and put my binoculars on the tanker. There was no one on the bridge. I took the time to make one radio call announcing my intentions, then invoked the General Prudential Rule (essentially throwing the Rules of the Road out and maneuvering as required to avoid collision). I put hard left rudder on her, spinning the Dawn on her heel and changed course so my stern was 90 degrees to the tanker's course, opening the distance between the two ships as rapidly as possible.

I put my glasses on his bridge again, and there was no one on the bridge. Nobody. Not a lookout, not a helmsman, and certainly not a watch officer. Nobody. The ship passed a mile astern of me, and I gradually eased back onto my base course, careful to keep the bugger astern of me just in case someone finally wandered onto the bridge and noticed there was another ship nearby. I didn't put her back on the Iron Mike until that tanker was five miles astern of me.

Now, imagine what would happen in that situation if the African Dawn had been one of these fully automated ships with no radar and no watch officer. Hint: Collision at sea, something the Navy has had entirely too much experience with the past few years.

There is no substitute for the human brain. Even, as we are seeing, in Congress and the White House.
 
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a buddy of mine was on a 75 ft. shrimp boat off Honduras and they got rammed by a freighter that changed course on its own with no one in the wheelhouse. that was back in the 80's, I can only imagine what kind of electronic b.s. they have now.
 

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They could be hacked and all start shooting at each other; or set a course for our enemy's ports to be used by them.
 

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Discussion Starter · #30 ·
They could be hacked and all start shooting at each other; or set a course for our enemy's ports to be used by them.
A valid reason NOT to use them.
 

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Retired IT Dinosaur Wrangler
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Cyrano, my ship was anchored in Norfolk harbor one very foggy night. Unsafe to proceed in. We had lights and fog horn going. I was on lookout up on the signal bridge. Suddenly we heard our aft lookout yelling a warning! A huge tanker was coming up astern! An officer on the bridge below asks for clarification. Aft lookout yells, "It's BIG!" Then that huge ship is passing us on our port side. I look up on their bridge with my binocs..... NOBODY! Not a soul visible anywhere! We were rocking in it's wake. If that giant had hit us they would have plowed my little frigate under. 😳
 
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