Saturday, July 7, 2018

AI weapon systems are likely to increase the number military conflicts

The Doomsday Machine

After reading Daniel Ellsberg’s book with the same title I felt lucky that I am still alive and that in general mankind survived the cold war. 

Following the Manhattan project, nuclear weapons and the triad of delivery systems were mass-produced within a couple of decades on both sides of the iron curtain. But the control mechanisms were crude and post cold war analysis of the Cuban missile crisis showed how close we had come to destroying civilization.  

Mutually assured destruction was the doctrine which prevented the use of nuclear weapons since the 1960-ies.

Continuation of policy by other means

In the sense of Clausewitz’ definition of war as a mere continuation of policy by other means, nuclear weapons are rather useless. For the continuation of policy, the military needs weapon systems which can be scaled as well as contained. This was demonstrated by the military conflicts of past decades. Carrier battle groups, advanced airplanes and cruise missiles have been the weapons of choice.

Today’s advanced weapon systems are already highly computerized. GPS and laser based guiding systems for example are controlled by complex software systems and could be considered weak AI systems.

There is no question about AI being used for weapons systems, it’s only a matter of timing and capabilities. Judging from a what’s feasible today, AI weapon systems most likely exist already.

Former US Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work and Shawn Brimley predicted in their 2014 paper 20YY Preparing for War in the Robotic Age that "The number of instances where humans must remain in the loop will likely shrink over time" due to advances in AI. 

Unmanned aerial vehicles are good examples of the advances towards autonomous weapon systems. Today there is still a human legally required to pull the trigger, but it’s unclear if the human is a true decision maker or just an actuator. The decision might be inevitable by the software-based analysis of the raw data, e.g. face recognition software positively identifying the target.

A major consequence of this development is that the threshold for military means is lowered dramatically. Mutually assured destruction was the strongest deterrent. More than 50,000 dead US soldiers in Vietnam seriously questioned this war and the deployment of the US military in general.

About 5,000 dead US military personnel in Iraq, a tenfold reduction over Vietnam due to technology advances in conventional weapon systems, changed the public debate.

The next war, fought predominately with autonomous weapons, is likely to reduce the body count by another order of magnitude. 

What’s another trillion dollars? 

While the cost of war is measured in lives and treasure, the balance is shifting towards treasure. Over the last half century, politicians have demonstrated little restrain when it comes to spending public treasure and borrowed heavily.

Military conflict seems more likely than ever by the advance of AI weapons systems.

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