Autonomous Weapons: A Volcano yet to Erupt

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The introduction of AI systems in militaries and acquisition by countries, especially great powers, may have grave implications in the long run. A perceived inequity can be seen in the balance of power if the AI race starts to gain momentum. One can argue that the race will be catalysed by the influence of a state acquiring AI systems thus posing a threat to another state all due to the anarchic nature of the international arena. As we grow, or at the very least try to be mindful of the unintended results affiliated with the advancement in military technology and autonomous weapons, we realize the militaristic attraction that these weapons possess and how we cannot sufficiently envision the possibility of these self-sufficient weapons advancing.

In 2016, a professional competition took place between a South Korean expert of the strategy game called Go and Google’s artificial intelligence program in which the master player Lee Se-Dol announced his withdrawal from the contest after failing to win against the program. Se-Dol’s remarks regarding the AlphaGo software implied that it was unbeatable. This event is just a glimpse of the future we are moving towards, filled with technology smarter than the best of us.

Robots in Warfare

Another such concerning and ever-growing subject of scholarly debate is the induction of killer robots into the battlefield. Machines with no emotional or poignant sense, ready to be deployed onto the battlefield along with no distinguished views regarding civilians or non-civilians, prognosticates the destruction and increase in the lethal spirit of warfare. Imperative to this very fact is the need for treaties and agreements that completely ban, halt, or terminate the production or research of these robots regardless of the purpose of their creation. The debate around the use of autonomous weapons and the usage of artificial intelligence for non-violent and advantageous purposes often bypasses the potential possibility for an artificial intelligence takeover, irrespective of the objective of use in the first place.

A robot functioned to kill an adversary and protect its own self may also go out of its place to protect its own existence that may even include killing its own master for the sake of survival. A machine with artificial intelligence may not take long to discover the possibility of functioning without a master. The risks are limitless, and their discussion exists albeit not as frequent and critically as it should be for being killed by the hands of machine with no face no manifestation initially built to follow, strayed to now kill and function independently must be a reason enough to stir fear, thus generating some seriousness into lawmakers to make a move.

Risk Assessment

One of the risks associated with a robot with artificial intelligence is commonly the development of a mind of its own. An issue of greater concern is the threat for rogue states acquiring these technologies and using them against adversaries. The unreliability of these weapons with respect to safety and ethicality will prove to be a promising threat to mankind. This issue is as grave as an issue of a terrorist group acquiring nuclear material. Both nuclear terrorism and an AI takeover have the same levels of threat, perhaps the latter being more dangerous.

Artificial intelligence in its mere existence is a big threat to anyone. The control of a robot and its conduct will be challenging since they will not be aware of what is legal and ethical or what is not. The lack of this very judgement is grave enough. The aberrant behaviour of these robots shall not be their mistake but their programmed objectives that we would not be able to hold the machine accountable for.

Once the development of these robots takes place, the proliferation shall too. The apogee being their use in combat thus promoting more trade in the realm of technology. This new, more threatening revolution in military affairs will prove to be the zenith of every mad man’s dream. An ever-increasing demand shall be experienced due to political and economic pressures of states once the revolution kicks in. We will then experience a robotic race like an arms race. The desire to acquire the most lethal autonomous weapon will be the new trend. Benefitting from this race shall be the clique of an AI industry and manufacturers ensuring the growing need for supply for nurturing their avarice.

These issues are just harbingers of a threat; the menaces related to these robots being moral, ethical, and legal, demand an international regulation method with a rich scope of application. The transmuting nature of these machines will need a more detailed, carefully orchestrated set of laws to deal with their characteristics filled with complexity. The threats being eminent enough calls for the development of a universal law applicable to all those having, developing, or having the desire to develop, acquiring, or having the desire to acquire these weapons.

In line with the aforementioned concerns, proposals should be put forward to deal with the possible menace of autonomous weapons and AI. Robotic warfare is an ugly reality soon approaching that if not stopped now, once we are removed from the decision-making panel, we will, rest assured, be annihilated. An analysis must be made to weigh out the consequences of these self-governing machines and develop safeguards in response to those analysed consequences. A liberal approach to the issue might bring us to a solution where the international arena can agree to ban these weapons. For prevention is better than the cure, especially when the danger to be faced is the likes of which no one has seen. At the end, it is life that matters the most.

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About Areeba Mehmood Khan 1 Article
Areeba Mehmood Khan is a graduate of National Defence University, who has interned at ISPR and taught at a school for under-privileged children as community service.

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