Let’s be honest–the three Star Wars prequels released from 1999 to 2005 weren’t good movies. Actually, they were terrible. And of course, who can forget Jar Jar Binks, the character that everyone loves to hate, and understandably so. One thinks back to the scene in The Phantom Menace as Jar Jar guides Obi Wan and Qui Gon Jinn through the deep Naboo abyss. As sea creatures devour each other, jockeying for possession of the mini submarine, the last thing Obi Wan–or audiences–want to hear is Jar Jar’s voice. But rest assured, it’s there, all the time. And through the mumbo jumbo that is Jar Jar’s voice, and as giant fish are swallowed by even larger ones, Qui Gon chirps in comedic relief, “There’s always a bigger fish.”

A brief history lesson shows the accuracy of this phrase. The first firearms are believed to have originated in the 12th century. Eventually muskets were invented, followed by repeating firearms. In the early 20th century, infantrymen began carrying small (relatively speaking) automatic weapons. The invention of firearms changed the way war was fought. Then in 1945, the United States forever changed the world by dropping atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, effectively bringing an end to the Second Great War. Is there always a bigger fish? What can top a nuclear bomb? Perhaps the answer will be weaponized artificial intelligence (AI).

U.S., China, and Russia at the Forefront

What exactly is weaponized AI? In short, weaponized AI allows a military to conduct war related tasks–such as drone strikes, air strikes, and intelligence gatherings–without any human involvement. The U.S. currently has the capability to conduct these tasks remotely, i.e. a human user can control drones much like one would control an R.C. car. Weaponized AI takes things one step farther–no humans are needed. Progress is being made, as reports indicate, that the U.S., Russia, and China, are “develop[ing] weapons systems for the land, sea and air that can talk to each other and select targets autonomously, making decisions now dictated by humans.” The U.S. Navy can deploy a Tomahawk Block IV missile “capable of loitering over a target area in order to respond to emerging targets or, with its on-board camera, provide battle damage information to warfighting commanders.” Given the advances in military technology like the example above, it’s no wonder some have argued that there is already an AI arms race between the U.S., Russia, and China.

Opposition to Weaponized AI

Given the threat that these military advances pose to the world, many have spoken out against militarizing the tech and AI industries. One organization, The Future of Life Institute, has argued, “AI has great potential to benefit humanity in many ways, and that the goal of the field should be to do so. Starting a military AI arms race is a bad idea, and should be prevented by a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.” They point to the dehumanization of war that AI weapons can facilitate–all of sudden, killing another person can be done without hesitation or forethought because there’s no longer another human on the other side of the gun (or control station).

On the other hand, some cite the effectiveness of using powerful weapons to cause otherwise unwilling parties to surrender. Case in point, the decision to use nuclear bombs against Japan. Weaponized AI systems, while very dangerous if placed in the wrong hands, could bring decisive and swift resolution to situations while also costing less human lives. The dehumanizing element need not be a bad thing–if someone is hell bent on the destruction of someone or something else, they will not stop until their goal is reached. The only choice is to eliminate the threat. Why eliminate the threat at the risk of more human lives when AI weapons can do the job just fine? To be sure, the waters are muddy and the answer isn’t cut and dry, like most things in life. However, weaponizing AI may not be such a horrible idea after all. Time will tell, and hindsight is always 20-20. Soon enough we’ll learn if weapons of AI are the next big fish.

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