Russian rhetoric about the importance of artificial intelligence is picking up – and with good reason: As artificial intelligence software develops, it will be able to make decisions based on more data, and more quickly, than humans can handle. As someone who researches the use of AI for applications as diverse as drones, self-driving vehicles and cybersecurity, I worry that the world may be entering – or perhaps already in – another cold war, fueled by AI. And I'm notalone.
Modern cold war
Just like the the Cold War in the 1940s and 1950s, each side has reason to fear its opponent gaining a technological upper hand. In a recent meeting at the Strategic Missile Academy near Moscow, Russian President Vladmir Putin suggested that AI may be the way Russia can rebalance the power shift created by the U.S. outspending Russia nearly 10-to-1 on defense each year. Russia's state-sponsored RT media reported AI was "key to Russia beating [the] U.S. in defense."
It sounds remarkably like the rhetoric of the Cold War, where the United States and the Soviets each built up enough nuclear weapons to kill everyone on Earth many times over. This arms race led to the concept of mutual assured destruction: Neither side could risk engaging in open war without risking its own ruin. Instead, both sides stockpiled weapons and dueledindirectly via smaller armed conflicts and political disputes.
Now, more than 30 years after the end of the Cold War, the U.S. and Russia have decommissioned tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. However, tensions are growing. Any modern-day cold war would include cyberattacks and nuclear powers' involvement in allies' conflicts. It's already happening.
Both countries – and many others too – still have nuclear weapons, but their use by a major power is still unthinkable to most. However, recentreports show increased public concern that countries might use them.
A world of cyberconflict
Cyberweapons, however, particularly those powered by AI, are still considered fair game by both sides.
AI can also be used to control non-nuclear weapons including unmanned vehicles like drones and cyberweapons. Unmanned vehicles must be able to operate while their communications are impaired – which requires onboard AI control. AI control also prevents a group that's being targetedfrom stopping or preventing a drone attack by destroying its control facility, because control is distributed, both physically and electronically.
AI-coordinated attacks can launch cyber or real-world weapons almost instantly, making the decision to attack before a human even notices a reason to. AI systems can change targets and techniques faster than humans can comprehend, much less analyze. For instance, an AI system might launch a drone to attack a factory, observe drones responding to defend, and launch a cyberattack on those drones, with no noticeable pause.
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