The promise and peril of military applications of artificial intelligence

Michael C. Horowitz at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: “Artificial intelligence (AI) is having a moment in the national security space. While the public may still equate the notion of artificial intelligence in the military context with the humanoid robots of the Terminatorfranchise, there has been a significant growth in discussions about the national security consequences of artificial intelligence. These discussions span academia, business, and governments, from Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom’s concern about the existential risk to humanity posed by artificial intelligence to Tesla founder Elon Musk’s concern that artificial intelligence could trigger World War III to Vladimir Putin’s statement that leadership in AI will be essential to global power in the 21st century.

What does this really mean, especially when you move beyond the rhetoric of revolutionary change and think about the real world consequences of potential applications of artificial intelligence to militaries? Artificial intelligence is not a weapon. Instead, artificial intelligence, from a military perspective, is an enabler, much like electricity and the combustion engine. Thus, the effect of artificial intelligence on military power and international conflict will depend on particular applications of AI for militaries and policymakers. What follows are key issues for thinking about the military consequences of artificial intelligence, including principles for evaluating what artificial intelligence “is” and how it compares to technological changes in the past, what militaries might use artificial intelligence for, potential limitations to the use of artificial intelligence, and then the impact of AI military applications for international politics.

The potential promise of AI—including its ability to improve the speed and accuracy of everything from logistics to battlefield planning and to help improve human decision-making—is driving militaries around the world to accelerate their research into and development of AI applications. For the US military, AI offers a new avenue to sustain its military superiority while potentially reducing costs and risk to US soldiers. For others, especially Russia and China, AI offers something potentially even more valuable—the ability to disrupt US military superiority. National competition in AI leadership is as much or more an issue of economic competition and leadership than anything else, but the potential military impact is also clear. There is significant uncertainty about the pace and trajectory of artificial intelligence research, which means it is always possible that the promise of AI will turn into more hype than reality. Moreover, safety and reliability concerns could limit the ways that militaries choose to employ AI…(More)”,