Lethal au­thor­ity will be the next step in ro­botic evo­lu­tion

It will pro­lif­er­ate in mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence anal­y­sis, de­ci­sion-mak­ing and weapon sys­tems

The Mercury - - BUSINESS REPORT -

IN THE PAST few weeks I have been writ­ing about ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence (AI) and how it is re­shap­ing our world, in par­tic­u­lar health­care, medicine, ma­te­rial sci­ence, art, ro­bot­ics and nano-tech­nol­ogy.

How­ever, just as AI and au­tonomous sys­tems devel­op­ment have pro­lif­er­ated in ev­ery day life, so too will it pro­lif­er­ate in mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence anal­y­sis, de­ci­sion-mak­ing, and au­tonomous weapon sys­tems.

It is quite prob­a­ble that in fu­ture the coun­try with the most in­tel­li­gent ma­chines will be the world leader or dom­i­na­tor. Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin re­cently called AI the fu­ture of all mankind and stated that the coun­try lead­ing in ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence would rule the world. No won­der the US, China and Rus­sia are heav­ily in­vest­ing in the mil­i­tary use of AI.

It was dur­ing the Per­sian Gulf War of 1990-1991 that we first be­came aware of the de­struc­tive power and ef­fi­cacy of AI weapons. Al­though pre­ci­sion-guided mu­ni­tions or “smart bombs” amounted to only 7.4 per­cent of all bombs dropped on Iraq, they were hugely suc­cess­ful with a min­i­mum of col­lat­eral ca­su­al­ties.

Ac­cel­er­ated by the tragic events of 9/11, the arms race for AI and au­tonomous weapons has re­ally taken off. In ad­di­tion to un­manned drones and ground ve­hi­cles, we have re­cently seen the emer­gence of ar­ti­fi­cially in­tel­li­gent and au­tonomous weapons with per­cep­tion and de­ci­sion-mak­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Cur­rently about 90 states and non­state groups pos­sess drones with vary­ing de­grees of au­ton­omy, and 30 more have armed drones or pro­grammes to de­velop them. Even the Is­lamic State is at­tach­ing bombs to small drones.

Since au­tonomous war ma­chines are not lim­ited by the phys­i­o­log­i­cal lim­its of hu­mans, th­ese ma­chines are much smaller, lighter, faster, and more ma­noeu­vrable. Their en­durance is much higher and they could stay on the bat­tle­field longer and with­out rest. They can take more risk and could there­fore per­form dan­ger­ous or even sui­ci­dal mis­sions with­out risk­ing hu­man lives.

In­tel­li­gent ma­chines can also han­dle mul­ti­ple threats in a com­plex com­bat sit­u­a­tion that is too fast for hu­man de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

But it re­ally is the next step in ro­botic evo­lu­tion that is of in­ter­est to the mil­i­tary – full au­ton­omy. This en­tails mov­ing from pas­sive ob­ser­va­tion of en­emy ter­ri­tory to dis­cov­er­ing and elim­i­nat­ing the en­emy. Of course,

LOUIS FOURIE

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