On April 20th, the US State Department released a publication by Christopher Ford, US Assistance Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation.
He also carries out the duties of Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security.
The entire series of Arms Control and International Security Papers publications number 4, in the first volume, and the one in focus is the second one – “AI, Human-Machine Interaction, and Autonomous Weapons: Thinking Carefully About Taking “Killer Robots” Seriously.” [pdf]
The Arms Control and International Security Papers are produced by the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security to make U.S. State Department policy analysis available in an electronically accessible format compatible with “social distancing” during the COVID-19 crisis.
This second in the “T Series” papers offers thoughts on the public policy challenges presented by the prospect of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS).
In this paper, Assistant Secretary Ford offers his perspective upon these issues, urging readers not to be seduced by sensationalized simplifications, and calling for careful, sustained attention to the complexities they raised – such as through the work already being done by the LAWS Group of Governmental Experts.
Ford, from the get-go sets the stage, that despite being relatively new LAWS has its fair share of clichés and armchair experts.
After all, there’s numerous examples such as “Skynet” from Terminator, and when one hears killer robots, that’s the instant thing that pops up, for most.
And that is specifically why it is hard to talk about war-capable Artificial Intelligence, “killer robots” and such, since it is very emotional, as the movies are a big part of popular culture, and activists are very vocal and touch the emotional heart strings and waste no time fearmongering.
Now these popular culture and activist challenges aside, according to Ford, China, mostly, presents a very real challenge.
Beijing invests huge sums into AI development, and then claims that unnamed Chinese officials even say that AI would become the “brain” of future warfare – an “AI Cluster” entirely taking over from actual humans in the national command structure, among other things.
According to Chinese Ministry of Defense officials, Beijing must “strengthen the research of artificial intelligence in the military field,” in order to allow China to “capture the ‘new commanding heights’ of the future battlefield, and ensure our army is built into a world-class military at an early date.”
And China isn’t the only one that the US should be worried about. But Washington, according to Ford, has been adamant that developments into AI and specifically for war should be established based on an ethical foundation.
“In sharp contrast to the opacity so far displayed by Chinese and Russian officials on such subjects, the U.S. Department of Defense is promoting thoughtful, responsible, and human-centric adoption of AI by investing in AI systems that are resilient, reliable, and secure.”
According to Ford, a sort of committee should be established on AI, that would discuss possibly ethical developments and how the incoming future “killer robots” are actually to potentially be used against adversaries, and this includes the US, China, Russia, and every other country.
Furthermore, he said that “sweeping policies” shouldn’t be implemented, since it is still too early on in the developments for any such thing to be necessary, rather developments should be let happen, but under US terms. If Russia and China develop systems that, according to the US are unethical or unacceptable, they will be met with antagonism, possibly sanctioning and other repercussions.
He also admitted that any disarmament treaties are unlikely to happen, since one can’t simply trust authoritarian states for their world, while the democratic world dismantles their arsenal, similar to the situation with the nuclear weapons.
Essentially, there’s a lot of dangers for AI, the US, of course, is led by humanitarian values that need to be adhered by, and Russia and China and others should also adhere to them.
But there is no way to force them to do so with agreements, because Moscow and Beijing are dishonest from the get-go, so there is no need for Washington to even attempt to establish any such deals – because it would allegedly be the only party adhering to it.
As it has become abundantly clear with the INF Treaty, which sees Washington begin testing previously banned missiles a short time after the deal was scrapped. One would “unwisely and foolishly” even consider that these weapons were being developed while the ban was enforced, and Russia was being continuously accused of doing precisely that.
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