This week, it was revealed that the United States Navy has developed “armed robot submarines controlled by onboard artificial intelligence. The vessels could potentially kill without explicit human control.” According to New Scientist magazine, the US Office of Naval Research is carrying out “an autonomous undersea weapon system for clandestine use.”
In normal times, this would make headlines news: Americans pushing the frontier of warfare and empowering “smart” weapons to make life and death decisions based on virtual battlefield algorithms — the stuff of science fiction. But these are not normal times. The fear of coronavirus is dominating the news, real and fiction.
President Donald Trump is visibly struggling to send a message of both concern and calm. In a press conference over the weekend, he once again reassured the public that the flu virus kills multiples times more people than coronavirus, so far. "We've done a fantastic job,” he said on Saturday. Meanwhile, CNN described the number of confirmed US cases as “soaring” to more than 550 infections out of a US population of 327 million.
To put that in perspective, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that in the US “about ten people die from unintentional drowning” every day. The World Health Organization reports that “an estimated 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food, and 420,000 die every year.”
New polling finds that Trump is being given the benefit of the doubt in the key 2020 swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. But like the coronavirus, public opinion could quickly mutate. So far, Americans are willing to wait and watch, and keep washing their hands.