A Renewed Arms Race
The US recently withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which was an arms control agreement between the US and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) that had been in place for over 30 years. Both the US and Soviet Union had abolished intermediate-range ballistic missiles, thereby ending the Cold War arms race. While the INF had largely been adhered to for decades, Russia has allegedly been developing intermediate-range missiles over the past few years. With the decision to formally withdraw from the treaty, the US may be once again engaging in an arms race with Russia.
Tensions between the US and Russia have escalated due to Russia’s interventions in the Ukraine and Syria. Moreover, the relationship between the US and China continues to sour as Xi Jinping further consolidates his power. The strains between these nations have led to investments in military technology that could completely change the scenes on the battlefield. The weapons aren’t just more explosive, they’re smarter. Artificial intelligence is being developed to help military technology autonomously operate on the battlefield when communications are compromised. Militaries may lose control of their weapons if the network is jammed. In an even worse scenario, their weapons could be hijacked.
To address these concerns, militaries are working to enable their weapons to autonomously make decisions when network communications are lost. We may one day expect to see battles fought by algorithms, rather than humans. This has the potential to save thousands of lives. Replacing a human on the battlefield with a robot could help us avoid the carnage of war. However, by giving more autonomy to machines, we may be “summoning the demon.” Can we program weapons to make the same decisions our soldiers would make? Would an army of machines make for a better army? Military leaders and artificial intelligence experts are asking themselves these questions as they achieve breakthroughs in the development of autonomous weapons. Time will tell whether we get the answers we’re hoping for.
Utopia or SkyNet?
As warfare becomes more advanced, we’ll encounter unprecedented battlefield scenarios. Unprecedented events pose a major problem to those developing algorithms for weapons, though. How can you program and test a weapon that will be used in a situation you’ve never encountered before? Programmers can attempt to build machines they think will work in the best interests of their military. The truth is, they cannot be sure whether those machines will work as expected. Introducing cutting edge technology to unprecedented events will necessarily lead to unprecedented responses.
By removing humans from war, we remove the humanity from war as well. Our military makes strategic decisions to reduce the number of civilian casualties while carrying out its operations. We go great lengths to limit the amount of suffering we inflict upon our enemies. If a decision serves no utility to the war we’re fighting, we don’t make it. If we are to remove humans from the decision making loop altogether, wars as we know them will end. Will something better replace them?
A Risk Worth Avoiding
Militaries are approaching the point of no return. They believe that they should invest in autonomous weapons because their adversaries are making those investments. They fear that if they don’t use autonomous weapons, then they’ll be unable to defend themselves against militaries willing to use them. This escalation needs to end now. A new treaty needs to be formed before it’s too late. The risk of developing SkyNet outweighs the benefit of bloodless wars. Unfortunately, some soldiers dying is better than the possibility of all people dying. The sacrifices our soldiers make are commendable and deserve even more recognition than we give them today. They should not be replaced on the battlefield by machines. This arms race should again end with diplomacy because the alternative could be the last military decision we may ever have the power to make.
What do you think about the future of warfare? Leave a comment below or comment me directly.