The United States and its allies s should not ban the use or development of autonomous weapons powered by artificial intelligence (AI) software, according to an official report commissioned for the American President and Congress.
The report focuses on how to counter China’s ambition to be a world leader in AI by 2030 also predicting that AI will transform “all aspects of military affairs”, and talks of rival algorithms battling it out in the future.
According to the report senior military advisors have warned the US could “lose its military-technical superiority in the coming years” if China leapfrogs it by adopting AI-enabled systems more quickly – for example by using swarming drones to attack the US Navy.
“The DoD [Department of Defense] has long been hardware-oriented toward ships, planes, and tanks [and] is now trying to make the leap to a software-intensive enterprise,” the report says.
“If our forces are not equipped with AI-enabled systems guided by new concepts that exceed those of their adversaries, they will be outmatched and paralysed by the complexity of battle.”
The report says that artificial intelligence will “compress decision time frames” and require military responses humans cannot make quickly enough alone, and it warns that Russia and China would be unlikely to keep to any such treaty.
The discussion waded into a controversial frontier of human rights and warfare. An estimated thirty countries including Brazil and Pakistan want a ban.
The report argues that if autonomous weapons systems have been properly tested and are authorised for use by a human commander, then they should be consistent with International Humanitarian Law. It draw the line at nuclear weapons, saying these should still require the explicit authorisation of the president.
The recommendations were made by the National Security Commission on AI – a body headed by ex-Google chief Eric Schmidt and ex-Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, who served under both Presidents Obama and Trump.