AI and war  -not just autonomous cars, but autonomous killing machines?

AI and war -not just autonomous cars, but autonomous killing machines?

We write a lot on this blog about how AI can help humanity make the world a better place: accelerating medical and pharmaceutical research, producing safer because autonomous cars, monitoring the development of epidemics, monitoring climate change, or creating intelligent robots to assist and care for people in hospitals or elderly care homes.

Over the past few months, I have come across more than a dozen reports and articles about the use of AI algorithms for military purposes. The old truth makes itself known once again, whether it is politically correct or not - technology (by no means just information technology) develops, thanks to the demands of armies and militaries.

Artificial intelligence is not just about noble applications like monitoring epidemics and supporting human genome research. AI algorithms, unfortunately, are also cutting-edge weapons and technology that answers the question of how to kill people faster, more effectively and more precisely.

And one more thing-  AI in military application causes the machine to kill the human, but at worst the machine dies not the humans. As the legendary American World War II general George Patton said: "The purpose of war is not to die for one's country, but to make those motherfuckers out there die for theirs." It's worse if "those over there" are civilians: including women and children.  And in modern warfare, it's getting easier and easier to kill them-as you'll read and watch in a moment, thanks very much to AI. In a moment, we may not only be dealing with autonomous cars, which I've blogged about before. We will be dealing with autonomous killing robots that will make their own decisions about who to kill and who to spare.

I am not fascinated with war. I don't get excited about the increasing capabilities of military technology, just so we understand each other. My grandmother, who was a big influence on my upbringing, participated in World War II.  As a liaison officer in the Polish resistance, she spent years in the mountain forests, in the cold, constant life threat and often starvation. Grandma told me hundreds of times: "War is the worst thing that can happen to you. May you never experience war."

Nevertheless, it will always be the military that uses the latest technologies, meaning not only AI, as an early adopter. 

What does the landscape of AI use in military tech look like today?

In preparation for this post, I did more research than usual. It would appear that the leading segments of the application of AI in the military are :

  • Target guidance. An algorithm (which can control a drone, a tank or even a fighter plane) learns to capture specific targets faster. 

  • Military logistics support. As with civilian logistics, AI helps significantly streamline and optimize supply routes for food, ammunition, as well as soldiers.

  • AI helps significantly in weather forecasting. This is extremely important for the global operations of the world's largest naval fleets.

  • Military intelligence - AI allows for better verification of intelligence data. Better mapping of enemy patterns and their learning by algorithms allows better assessment of what is valuable intelligence and what is just enemy provocation.

  • AI supports medical care on the battlefield. It allows for better location of the wounded and faster diagnosis of the quickest method to evacuate and treat the wounded.

  • Military robots including unmanned vehicles and drones. They are much faster than their human counterparts when it comes to combat response.

  • Autonomous airforce. The US Air Force has a program to convert older F-16s, which are being retired from service, into autonomous and unmanned aircraft. So that they can keep up with the much more modern F-35s, which are now becoming the leading standard aircraft. They would be controlled by the squadron commander, as autonomous "wingmen".

The Russians have an autonomous T-14 tank in the works. "The Economist" published a big piece about the use of AI in piloting F-16 fighters about a year ago. Most interesting from a technological standpoint - in the recent clash between Israel and Palestine, the Israeli army (IDF) made massive use of AI in tracking down key Hamas officers and locating the tunnels Hamas uses to move its men from Gaza to Israel. I have included links to articles and videos below the post if you are interested in the technical details.

What does all this mean in practice? We have drones, tanks, planes that we can program to make decisions on their own and that have the ability to learn who to kill. They can escape our control, and they can also, in theory, wage a much more humane war than we've seen so far.

It is fair to say that we have two main camps today, representing radically different positions.

One camp of great powers, although they are on different sides of the political barricade on a daily basis, which are the US, China and Russia, claims that war conducted with AI support is more humanitarian. Firstly, in theory, we can program algorithms so that weapons automatically miss civilians, especially children and women. War with algorithms is intended to be more precise and more humane. In the ideal world of the war of the future, robots fight robots and people do not die...

The other camp - the smaller states and NGO activists - point to the enormous increase in the killing potential and the effect of AI-assisted weapons, which will not necessarily be used in accordance with UN conventions. After all, we can teach an algorithm controlling a drone to shoot at black people, men wearing yarmulkes, or women with their hair covered by a headscarf.

There are activists around the world who compare autonomous weapons to the war gases of the first war, which were eventually banned.

One thing is certain. The modern battlefield is beginning to resemble a super-advanced computer game where soldiers and machines are connected by super-fast wireless internet. Just as we talk about connected health, connected cities and connected industries, we can probably already talk about connected warfare. The question remains: who is in command and is it still human?

Fighter aircraft will soon get AI pilots  

The first AI war 


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