The race to incorporate artificial intelligence in modern weapons threatens to outstrip the technology’s capabilities — and the world’s ability to control them.
The Commander-in-Chief of Russia’s air force Viktor Bondarev has told a gathering at the MAKS-2017 international airshow his aircraft would soon be getting cruise missiles with artificial intelligence capable of analysing its environment and opponents and make “decisions” about altitude, speed, course — and targets.
“Work in this area is underway,” Russian news agency TASS reports Tactical Missiles Corporation CEO Boris Obnosov as adding.
“As of today, certain successes are available, but we’ll still have to work for several years to achieve specific results.”
While neither indicated which missiles were slated to get such enhanced artificial intelligence, there are two apparent contenders among the “super weapons” President Vladimir Putin bragged about last year: the “Avangard” hypersonic glide vehicle and the “Burevestnik” nuclear-powered cruise missile.
Much modern weaponry is already capable of making choices — such as the automated Gatling guns designed to react and shoot-down incoming missiles in the blink of an eye.
These “choices”, however, are generally minimal.
Mr Obnosov told TASS that Russia had observed US cruise missiles used against targets in Syria demonstrating the ability to redirect themselves after “realising” their original objective had already been destroyed.
But being able to identify and sort through targets of opportunity takes mechanical decision-making to a whole new level. It also opens up an ethical can of worms.
Artificial intelligence has one major flaw: It’s not terribly smart.
It can be incredibly fast and efficient at following and applying a set of learned rules. But it has almost no ability to adapt to unexpected situations.
Which is why removing humans from the decision-making “loop” remains a contentious issue.
In September last year, the European Union called for the creation of an international treaty banning “killer robots”.