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AI Rifles and Future Mass Shootings

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The scale and frequency of mass killings have been increasing, and this is likely to continue. One reason — but just one — is that weapons are always getting more lethal. One of the next technical innovations in small arms will be the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the aiming of weapons. There is no reason for civilians to have this technology and we should ban it now.

By lethality, I mean how many people you can kill in a short period. Lethality depends on many factors, including the weapon’s rate of fire, but not just that. Depending on the circumstances, a shooter with a highly accurate bolt-action rifle may be able to kill more people than one with a fully automatic but inaccurate weapon. Life, as they say, is a trade-off.

However, accurate shooting is hard. Bullets fall as they travel, so you need to estimate the distance to the target and compensate by pointing the barrel up. Likewise, bullets are blown by the wind, so you have to measure that and compensate for it. Finally, it’s difficult to hold a rifle stationary, but if you are even a minute of angle off of true aim when you pull the trigger, at 500 yards range you will be several inches off when the bullet reaches the target.

Here is a rifle that uses AI to increase rifle accuracy (see also here). It automatically carries out drop and wind compensation and times the moment of firing so that the barrel is pointed optimally to hit the target.

Made by TrackingPoint, a start-up based in Austin, Texas, the new $22,000 weapon is a precision-guided firearm (PGF). According to company president Jason Schauble, it uses a variant of the “lock-and-launch” technology that lets fighter jets fire air-to-air missiles without the pilot having to perform precision aiming.

The PGF lets the user choose a target in the rifle’s sights while the weapon decides when it is the best time to shoot – compensating for factors like wind speed, arm shake, recoil, air temperature, humidity and the bullet’s drop due to gravity, all of which can affect accuracy.

To do this, the PGF’s tracking system includes a computer running the open-source Linux operating system, a laser rangefinder, a camera and a high-resolution colour display in an integrated sighting scope mounted on top of the weapon. The user simply takes aim and presses a button near the trigger when a dot from the laser illuminates the target.

The computer then runs an algorithm using image-processing routines to keep track of the target as it moves, keeping the laser dot “painted” on the same point. At the same time, the algorithm increases the pressure required to pull the trigger, only reducing it when the gun’s crosshairs are right over the laser dot – and the bullet is then fired.

The Tracking Point XS-1 precision-guided firearm.

The US and other militaries are developing similar weapons. The Tracking Point rifle appears to be something that Americans can legally own. The technology will, of course, continue to improve and will get cheaper.

At some point, shooters with rifles like these will begin finding positions overlooking busy city streets, arenas, and schoolyards. Although they will fire at slower rates than the Las Vegas shooter did, far higher proportions of their shots will be fatal.

Or, Americans could decide that only the military and the police need these weapons. The time to make this decision is now before the devices get into circulation.

Someone will say that mass shooting are rare. Moreover, if a future schoolyard shooter can’t get an AI rifle, he will use an only marginally less lethal weapon. Thus, preventing civilians from legally owning AI rifles would save only a few lives and only trivially reduce the total of gun deaths. So, really, aren’t you just virtue-signalling?

So what? No one who isn’t serving in the military or police needs an AI rifle more than those future victims need their lives.



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2 days ago
So you want to take away my rapid fire rifle? I've got something better anyway.
Central Pennsyltucky
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Annals of commerce: product downgrades

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Not everything you buy is getting better. Here are a couple of pet peeves:

I. Unfinished cast iron cookware

Cast iron skillets have been popular for decades. Properly seasoned and cared for, they last pretty much forever, are easy to clean, and are especially good at browning meat owing to the Maillard reaction that is catalyzed by iron. They used to be made with two well established technologies. The first is sand casting, and it’s the same way the engine block of your car is made. First, a wood pattern is made in the shape of the desired pan, but larger by about 1/8″ per foot because the pan will shrink as it cools. This pattern is embedded in damp sand in a mold with two parts, removed without disturbing the sand, and molten iron is run into the space it leaves.

The result of this process is a (1) rough casting with a very scrabbly surface of mill scale, ready to machine to the required dimensions and finish (the second technology). Back in the day, the skillet was (2) put on a lathe and  the inside turned to a perfectly flat inner bottom and smooth sides. This removes the hard, sandy layer on top and exposes the cast iron. You can find these pans at garage sales and on Ebay, and if they’re not too old and used, you can still see the spiral track of the lathe tool on the pan.

The skillet you will find today at your hardware store is probably Lodge, a company that used to make its wares correctly, but they have discovered a wonderful way to cut corners: just skip step (2), give the rough casting a coat of black paint, and call it “pre-seasoned”!  Here is what a new skillet made this way looks like.

You might make this smooth trying to get your fried eggs off it with metal spatulas–after a century or so.   

There is a workaround, but most people aren’t equipped to execute it. My lathe isn’t big enough to chuck a 12″ pan even with the gap bed open, so I broke out the angle grinder with a coarse flap wheel and cleaned it up the hard way.

Wear eye protection!  A second pass with a finer grit wheel left this finish:

The fine scratches are not a problem, and all the exposed surface is clean cast iron:

Here’s what such a pan looks like after a couple of months’ use:

Now you just have to season it for real, which is not a big mystery,simply a matter of heating it up with a generous coating of cooking oil to frying temperature and letting it cool. Never wash it with detergent, just hot water and the least aggressive scrubbing pad that works, first choice plastic.  If it gets rust spots, just sand it and do the hot oil thing again, and keep cooking (always with an oil coating).

If you can get an old one used, and Ebay has lots, that’s probably the best move. If it isn’t seriously pitted, all it needs is a light sanding to be ready for another century.

These guys seem to have it right (haven’t seen one up close, but the pictures look OK) however at a very hefty price, and “lighter” is not necessarily a virtue for cast iron, whose mass and thermal inertia is a feature, not a bug.

II. Men’s trousers…

properly made, as they have been since I’ve been wearing them, have a zipper about eight inches long. My favorite haberdasher (Costco, of course) now seems to stock chinos with only 6″ zippers, which are really awkward for their intended use. 8″ zippers cost a little more than a dime; how many pennies per pair can this sleazy trick save?


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2 days ago
All of my cast iron pans have a smooth finish. The youngest was purchased about 35 years ago and was produced by Atlanta Cast Iron (who also made the wood stove we got at about the same time). I have noticed that what is available for purchase today is crap, now I know why.
Central Pennsyltucky
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A semiautomatic assault rifle with a big magazine, let alone pockets full of them, is a military arm and has the unique purpose of killing a lot of people. Not punching paper, not killing deer (unless you’re after venisonburger); killing a lot of people, especially people who might be shooting back at you, including peace officers.  If personal protection is what you’re about, you want a shotgun, not an AR-15.

This distinctive purpose entrains the secondary function of watering and fertilizing the sick imaginations of sick people.

The purpose of the NRA is to enrich firearms manufacturers and secondarily to elect Republicans. Not freedom, not firearms recreation, not personal protection: enriching gun makers and merchants.

Target shooting, including trap and skeet, are sports with a long and respectable histories. So is hunting, with a license and appropriate tools (and steel shot, please). I have enjoyed all of these without guilt. But there is no Olympic event of shooting at body outline targets with higher scores for hitting vitals, and a civilized society is not obliged to tolerate whatever hobby any of its citizens wish to pursue (dogfighting, auto donut sideshows, catcalling women in the street…).

I’m not sure what I think about revolvers or automatic pistols with reasonable magazines. Pistol target shooting is very challenging. But in view of the cost in lives and heartbreak of having them around and about as we do, I’m increasingly doubtful as the years go by and the body count goes up.

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7 days ago
Central Pennsyltucky
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Someone asked, "What would you say to someone considering joining the military right now?"

My answer?


Flip, I suppose. Terse, certainly. But that’s my recommendation nonetheless.  Don’t.

It doesn’t need to be any more elaborate than that, if you understand what you’re asking.

It doesn’t require any more words than that, if you understand what you’re asking.

If you understand what you’re asking.


Simple as that.

But, of course, it’s not that simple.

And, of course, it didn’t end there.

How could it?

I mean, if you had to ask, well…

Those you who follow me on Twitter, you saw the responses.


Many seemed shocked, surprised, as if they expected a career veteran like me to have answered differently.

But why? They asked. Why would you tell people not to join the military? You did. You spent 20 years and more in the military, why would you, you of all people, tell others not to join up? Are you one of them? One of those disgruntled vets, all sour and angry and ashamed of your service?


No, I’m not one of them.

Not at all.

I’m proud of my service. I’m glad I served. Even when the war was unjust and ill-conceived and based on lies, my service, and that of those who served beside me and under my command, was honorable. I’m proud of my service and those I served with. I am neither bitter nor angry nor ashamed of it. Just the opposite and I’ve written enough about my career here that such should be obvious.

But this world, this America today, is not the same nation it was when I signed up.

I was no idealist. I joined up for a number of reasons, some good, some dumb, some I’ve told you about about in other articles and some that are none of your business, but idealism wasn’t one of those reasons. I knew what I was getting into. I joined the military in the first years of the Reagan Administration. Back then, agree with the president or not, the Cold War was very real and you could at least see the very explicit threat America faced every day. We didn’t have to go looking for it. We didn’t have to provoke it with bombast and juvenile posturing on Social Media – even if such had existed back then. And while I wasn't so foolish as to believe everything the government told me, I believed that the majority of those in our government wanted to make the world a better place. Reagan, whatever his faults, whatever his ideology, was trying to make nuclear war less likely, not start one to prove his manhood.

I don’t idolize Ronald Reagan, far from it. And I am well, well aware of his myriad faults and I despise the path he set American politics on, the path that has led thirty years later to this very point. But I was willing to sign up and serve under his command because I believed he truly wanted to make the world a better place for all of us. Reagan tried to tear down walls, not build new ones.

I don’t expect you to agree with me about that. I expect you and I see that time differently. That’s okay.

But I think we can agree that the world, and America, was a very, very different place and Reagan aside, back before the rise of the 24/7 news cycle and hate TV and 9-11, I believed the majority of Americans wanted to make the world a better place. We certainly didn’t agree on how, and maybe many of those Americans never thought beyond winning the Cold War, but in large part most of our country wanted to make the world a better place.

I could support that.

I could be part of that.

Even if I didn’t agree with the various administrations over the years, or the methodology, or how we were used, I could be part of that.

Fast forward to the present:

Joining the military is (so far) still a personal decision.

If you're considering it, then you should understand in detail what that decision implies.

You're going to swear a binding oath to obey the orders of the President. This President. If you don’t understand what that means now, well, you could find yourself later in the same jail cell Chelsea Manning just vacated.

You need to understand that oath and what it means before you sign up.

Oh sure, the orders must be lawful.

But you’re going to find out, sooner or later, that there is a hell of a lot of wiggle room in lawful. Using that above example: nothing that Manning disclosed, not one of the things she couldn’t live with, none of them were unlawful. Immoral maybe. Unethical. Horrible. But not unlawful.

And here's the real rub: what is and is not lawful, well, that’s decided by Congress and the President.

This Congress.

This President.

You? Once you swear that oath, you don't get to decide what is and is not lawful, but you will be held responsible for it anyway -- and they will not.

So, before you hold up your right hand and swear your oath, you need to think about what that could mean for you personally.

Particularly under this Congress and this president.

And you need to think about it in detail. Hard. All the way through. And if you can't live with what it very well might come to, if you can’t see what it might very well come to, then don't swear that oath.

Because once you do, you're part of it.

All the way.

Once you swear that oath, you're part of this administration. Part its agenda. And you’ll be held responsible, at least in part, by history for it. If you sign up during this administration, you're saying you're good with all of that – or if not good per se, then at least you can live with it. Whatever it might come to. You won't have an excuse. You volunteered. You're in, all the way, whatever might come, to the bitter end.

And you damned well better understand that in your bones.

Me? I spent more than 20 years in the military. I served under Republicans and Democrats with equal fidelity. I had to do some pretty shitty things in some pretty awful places. I don't regret that, because I made my peace with it before I swore my oath the first time and again when I became a Chief and then an Officer and was put into a position were I would surely have to order others to do terrible things in the name of my country.

I can live with it.

I can live with it, even if I didn't agree with the government, or the president of the moment, or the war. I did my duty because I believed we were right. Because I believed we weren't sacrificing our lives for nothing. Because I believed the majority of Americans wanted to make the world a better place.

I no longer believe this to be true of America.

You see, my word, once given is good. No exceptions.

So I don't give it lightly. And as such, I could not in good conscience swear to obey the orders of this President, even lawful ones – not when he is enabled, encouraged, and unchecked by this Congress and an America who put these rotten faithless sons of bitches in power. I could not in good conscience follow the orders of this feckless fool of a President unrestrained by this small-minded hateful Congress. I do not believe they want to make the world a better place for anyone but themselves.

I do not trust these people not to waste lives, mine, yours, the lives of my troops, the lives of our children, or the lives of those caught in the middle.

In point of fact, many in this government have made it abundantly clear that they regard the lives of those them deem unAmerican to be unworthy of any further consideration. This is not acceptable to me. I would not pledge my life to those who see me as expendable to further their own selfish ends.

Yes, but what about the Coast Guard, someone asked. What about the National Guard, asked several others.


Hell no.

Those services most especially.

Why? Well, see, the Coast Guard is a military service under the cognizance of the Department of Homeland Security.

Think about that.

Think about why it is that way.

You want to think carefully about what that implies nowadays in the context of, oh say immigration, or drug enforcement, or national security, and how those things have grossly distorted the Coast Guard's traditional mission in this paranoid, nationalist, post-911 America. And then you want to remember that the Coast Guard is specifically not under the Department of Defense because it is, primarily, a law enforcement agency who unlike the rest of the military, can enforce the government's will directly on Americans without regard to the Posse Comitatus Act or other niceties.

The same is true of the National Guard when under the command of State Governors, and I wouldn't trust those fascist bastards not to abuse that power nor this federal government to hold them in check.

Nor would I want to be the instrument of it.

How likely do I think that danger is?

I don’t know. And that’s the problem.

So, if you're thinking of joining, think on that very carefully.

Remember, you asked me what I would do.

Back in the early part of the last century, there were those Germans who signed up. They weren’t Nazis. They weren’t terrible people. They were serving their country long before the fascists came along. They were decent people who hailed from a tradition of service in a nation that valued their sacrifice. They were professionals. And when Hitler came to power, well, at first they were glad to see their military restored to priority in that society.

But when it all went to hell, when the horror became apparent, it was too late. They were part of it then. All the way. To the bitter end.

Those men, they didn’t know, not at first, not like those who joined up after the truth was obvious, but in the end they had become monsters just the same.


In this world?

In this America?

I would not join up, because I know in detail what that oath means.

The oath is power. Service is power. Not for you, but for those who command it.

And I know that the restraints and the reason that were once placed on that power no longer exist in America.

I won’t be a part of that. And I am not willing to risk becoming a monster even by accident.


Well, that's your decision.

And you’ll have to make it.

But if you’re asking for advice, then my answer is this: Don't.

If you don't like my advice, then you shouldn't have asked for it.

Then again, if you’re asking, you really don’t understand the question.

And you really, really should.

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12 days ago
How weird must it be to be held accountable to an oath to obey the orders of someone who violates his own oath on a daily basis?
Central Pennsyltucky
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Peak Trump

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A man works tirelessly for months, acquiring parts, assembling them, making a machine that grows larger every day and eventually takes the intended form. Eventually it is ready. He rolls the machine to the edge of a cliff, climes into a makeshift chair near the center of it, and with help from his neighbor (who … Continue reading Peak Trump

The post Peak Trump appeared first on Greg Laden's Blog.

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19 days ago
The image of the "flying" machine gave me a big grin.
Central Pennsyltucky
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Amid all the SOTUS Hoopla, There’s This

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Last week, the Trump administration allowed Russian spy chief Sergey Naryshkin, who has been banned from entering the US since 2014 sanctions for the invasion of Ukraine, to enter our country.  To make matters worse, Naryshkin reportedly met with Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats.  So, let’s be clear…Trump refuses publicly to implement the sanctions ordered by Congress in 2017 for meddling in our 2016 elections; THEN, he allowed the head of Russian intelligence to illegally enter the US to meet with government intelligence officials.

You just can’t make this up.

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22 days ago
No collusion
Central Pennsyltucky
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