The third evidence session for the House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in weapon systems heard views on the development and impact of autonomous weapons from the perspective of the military technology sector.
Witnesses giving evidence at the session were former RAF officer and Ministry of Defence (MoD) advisor Dr Keith Dear, now at Fujitsu Defence and Security; James Black of RAND Europe, Kenneth Payne of Kings College London and the MoD’s Defence Academy at Shrivenham, and Courtney Bowman of US tech company Palantir Technologies. Palantir specialises in the development of AI technologies for surveillance and military purposes and has been described as a “pro-military arm of Silicon Valley”. The company boasts that its software is “responsible for most of the targeting in Ukraine”, supporting the Ukrainian military in identifying tanks, artillery, and other targets in the war against Russia, and its Chief Technology Officer recently told the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee that: “If we want to effectively deter those that threaten US interests, we must spend at least 5% of our budget on capabilities that will terrify our adversaries”.
Not surprisingly, the witnesses tended to take a pro-industry view towards the development of AI and autonomous weapon systems, arguing that incentives, not regulation, were required to encourage technology companies to engage with concerns over ethics and impacts, and taking the fatalistic view that there is no way of stopping the AI juggernaut. Nevertheless, towards the end of the session an interesting discussion on the hazards of arms racing took place, with the witnesses suggesting some positive steps which could help to reduce such a risk.
Arms racing and the undermining of global peace and security becomes a risk when qualitatively new technologies promising clear military advantages seem close at hand. China, Russia, and the United States of America are already investing heavily in robotic and artificial intelligence technologies with the aim of exploiting their military potential. Secrecy over military technology, and uncertainty and suspicion over the capabilities that a rival may have further accelerates arms races.
Competition between these rivals to gain an advantage over each other in autonomous technology and its military capabilities already meets the definition of an arms race – ‘the participation of two or more nation-states in apparently competitive or interactive increases in quantity or quality of war material and/or persons under arms’ – and has the potential to escalate. This competition has no absolute end goal: merely the relative goal of staying ahead of other competitors. Should one of these states, or another technologically advanced state, develop and deploy autonomous weapon systems in the field, it is very likely that others would follow suit. The ensuing race can be expected to be highly destabilising and dangerous. Read more