Posted by Roger Mallett Posted on 14 July 2023

AI Versus AI. And Human Extinction as Collateral Damage. “AI and the Nuclear Trigger”

A world in which machines governed by artificial intelligence (AI) systematically replace human beings in most business, industrial, and professional functions is horrifying to imagine. After all, as prominent computer scientists have been warning us, AI-governed systems are prone to critical errors and inexplicable “hallucinations,” resulting in potentially catastrophic outcomes. But there’s an even more dangerous scenario imaginable from the proliferation of super-intelligent machines: the possibility that those nonhuman entities could end up fighting one another, obliterating all human life in the process.

The notion that super-intelligent computers might run amok and slaughter humans has, of course, long been a staple of popular culture.

In the prophetic 1983 film “WarGames,” a supercomputer known as WOPR (for War Operation Plan Response and, not surprisingly, pronounced “whopper”) nearly provokes a catastrophic nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union before being disabled by a teenage hacker (played by Matthew Broderick). The “Terminator” movie franchise, beginning with the original 1984 film, similarly envisioned a self-aware supercomputer called “Skynet” that, like WOPR, was designed to control U.S. nuclear weapons but chooses instead to wipe out humanity, viewing us as a threat to its existence.

Though once confined to the realm of science fiction, the concept of supercomputers killing humans has now become a distinct possibility in the very real world of the near future. In addition to developing a wide variety of “autonomous,” or robotic combat devices, the major military powers are also rushing to create automated battlefield decision-making systems, or what might be called “robot generals.” In wars in the not-too-distant future, such AI-powered systems could be deployed to deliver combat orders to American soldiers, dictating where, when, and how they kill enemy troops or take fire from their opponents. In some scenarios, robot decision-makers could even end up exercising control over America’s atomic weapons, potentially allowing them to ignite a nuclear war resulting in humanity’s demise.

Now, take a breath for a moment. The installation of an AI-powered command-and-control (C2) system like this may seem a distant possibility. Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Defense is working hard to develop the required hardware and software in a systematic, increasingly rapid fashion. In its budget submission for 2023, for example, the Air Force requested $231 million to develop the Advanced Battlefield Management System (ABMS), a complex network of sensors and AI-enabled computers designed to collect and interpret data on enemy operations and provide pilots and ground forces with a menu of optimal attack options. As the technology advances, the system will be capable of sending “fire” instructions directly to “shooters,” largely bypassing human control.

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