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From the A bomb to the AI bomb, nuclear weapons' problematic evolution

At 2:26 A.M. on June 3, 1980, Zbigniew Brezezinski, US President Jimmy Carter’s famously hawkish national security adviser, received a terrifying phone call: 220 Soviet nuclear missiles were heading for the US.

‘Novelty implies new vulnerabilities’ Almost forty years on from that near debacle, AI seems to have disappeared from the nuclear debate, even though such algorithms have become ubiquitous at every level of society.

The nuclear arms race still poses a considerable threat, seeing as Donald Trump’s America has promised to modernise its arsenal, North Korea seems uninterested in abandoning its nuclear programme, and relations are tense between neighbouring nuclear powers and historical antagonists India and Pakistan.

However, technological breakthroughs in AI show “enormous potential in nuclear power, as in the areas of conventional and cyber weapons”, said Vincent Boulanin, the researcher at SIPRI responsible for the report, in an interview with FRANCE 24.

In part, such scepticism stems from the fact that “the adoption of new technologies in the nuclear field tends to be rather slow because novelty implies the possibility of new vulnerabilities”, Boulanin pointed out.

On this basis, “the guiding principle of respect for human dignity dictates that machines should generally not be making life-or-death decisions”, argued Frank Sauer, a nuclear weapons specialist at the University of Munich, in the SIRI study.

Risk of accidental use Artificial intelligence also risks upsetting the delicate balance between the nuclear powers, warned Michael Horowitz, a defence specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, in the SIRI study: “An insecure nuclear-armed state would therefore be more likely to automate nuclear early-warning systems, use unmanned nuclear delivery platforms or, due to fear of rapidly losing a conventional war, adopt nuclear launch postures that are more likely to lead to accidental nuclear use or deliberate escalation.” That means that the US – which boasts the world’s largest nuclear stockpile – will be more cautious in adopting AI than a minor nuclear power such as Pakistan.

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Topic: International security

NPMP RIAC does not grant the right of publication to third-party resources photos and illustrations placed on the portal russiancouncil.ru with the exception of photos and illustrations published in the official account of NP RIAC on Flickr.com.

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