The Ethics of AI in Military Applications

AI in Military ApplicationsLike it or not, humankind is warlike. As far back as can be traced, tribe has waged war against tribe, nation against nation, religion against religion. There is every reason to believe that a desire to inflict pain and slaughter on others is deep in the human psyche. It could be argued that politics exists solely to justify the unjustifiable and defend the indefensible.

The fifteenth century saw the beginning of widespread use of gunpowder in military applications. This is usually referred to as the first revolution in warfare. The development of nuclear weapons is described as the second. Many military commentators see the use of artificial intelligence in warfare as the third – and some worry about it.

In 2015, a conference was held in Argentina under the title International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence. A number of prominent scientists and thinkers signed a letter calling for a ban on the development of lethal weapons using artificial intelligence. The concern was (and is) that AI makes it possible to develop weapons that can kill with great efficiency both on and off the battlefield and – not being human – would have neither accountability nor a moral sense. This argument goes to the root of discussion about what AI actually is; it also ignores history and the fact that the single most warlike factor ever seen on Planet Earth is Homo Sapiens.

Those opposing the development of AI weaponry did not have the discussion all their own way. Opponents of the opponents pointed out that there had been little debate and that what those calling for a ban described as debate was simply the repetition of their own views. The current popularity of “no-platforming” anyone with a different view extended to Argentina 2015 – as might possibly have been expected in a country that, 40 years ago, under a dictatorship, took its own dissidents up in planes and thrown them out over the sea. There is, in other words, a meaningful and important debate to be had on this subject but that is not what is actually happening.