AI News, War Machines: Artificial Intelligence in Conflict

War Machines: Artificial Intelligence in Conflict

*** Having invented the first machine gun, Richard John Gatling explained (or at least justified) his invention in a letter to a friend in 1877: With such a machine, it would be possible to replace 100 men with rifles on the battlefield, greatly reducing the number of men injured or killed.

Many countries in the world today, including Russia and China, are believed to be developing weapons that will have the ability to operate autonomously—discover a target, make the decision to engage and then attack, without human intervention.

Wars that increasingly involve (or are even between) intelligent machines consisting of swarms, cyber attacks, and robots will upend many of our current understandings of warfare, including what constitutes a weapon or a soldier, responsibility and accountability in warfare, and perhaps what even constitutes a conflict.

Paul Scharre—former Army Ranger, adviser to the Obama administration on artificial intelligence, and currently head of an emerging technologies program at the Center for a New American Security—has written an ambitious and fascinating book that will appeal to many and help them to start navigating many of these challenges.

Drawing upon the latest in technological developments, just war theory, his own impressive military and policy background and the laws of war, “Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War,” delivers what will likely be the most important general-audience book on this topic for at least the next decade.

Scharre takes a very broad view of the national security challenges posed by AI and autonomous systems—not just “weapons” in the narrow legal sense, but the impacts of these emerging technologies across military systems.

While this might be somewhat basic for engineers or military personnel, it allows “Army of None” to build the background to the points the book makes about what exactly will (and will not) be changing about future weapons systems and the challenges they pose in law, ethics, strategy, and policy.

Here, “Army of None” turns to the debate between “normal accident theory” (which says that accidents are inevitable in fast-paced and highly-interactive systems, with unpredictable and sometimes deadly results), on the one hand, and theories of “high-reliability organizations” able to manage risky systems through a system of rigorous procedures and practices, on the other.

While normal accident/high-reliability theory has been applied to nuclear weapons, the fact that AI and autonomous weapons are very new and there is much we do not know about how they will fail makes this an appropriate framework to understand the challenges.

Ideally, this book may start conversations between policy-makers, lawyers, activists, militaries and engineers creating these machines, helping them to grapple with the implications of increasing autonomy in warfare.

Book Launch Event: Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War by Paul Scharre

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