AI and national security; a new arms race?

Technological advancements had a revolutionary impact on the national security of nations. The cold war period experienced an arms race, the space race and technological competition. But in recent times, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being integrated into commercial as well as military use.

B.J. Copeland defines AI as the ability of a computer-controlled robot to perform tasks intelligently. Some critiques highly object to the automation of robots used in operations. AI also means to develop a system with intellectual characteristics to reason, discover and generalize.

A simple example of AI is that a computer can be programmed to carry out complex calculations such as mathematical theorems or playing computer games (chess, archery, tennis… etc.) with great efficiency.

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Defining Machine learning

Machine learning is the application of AI that enables the system to automatically learn and improve from experience. Machine learning makes the computer more intelligent than humans.

In machine learning a system can learn from data, it can identify various patterns and also can make decisions with minimal human intervention. Google self-driving cars are the finest example of AI.

When AI is used in military affairs it has a very critical impact on combat operations. AI came to usage even during WWII when the Allies constructed decipherment machines to crack the Nazis’ Enigma code.

Historically militaries have been leveraging intelligence and technology to their strategic advantages. The technologies that are even in civilian use were developed in military laboratories for example GPS was developed during navy experiments in the 1960s to track USSR submarines possibly carrying nuclear missiles.

Read more: Artificial intelligence: Undeniable reality – Dr. Zafar Jaspal

Impact of AI in modern warfare

According to Tejaswi and Gulhane (2018), AI has changed the character of modern warfare. AI in military affairs has improved self-regulation, self-control and self-actuation of the combat system due to the inherent nature and capability of computing to make decisions.

AI is a growing field with potentially significant implications for national security. Great powers like the U.S., China, Russia, UK etc. are developing AI for the range of military functions.

Read more: China denies US allegations over military ‘hackers’

Extensive research on AI and its integration into various areas of logistics, cyber operations, intelligence gathering, information operations and command and control are underway that is likely to change modern life into hypermodernity.

There is no doubt that advancement in AI will be affecting the notion of national security by adding advantage to military, information and economic superiority.

The U.S. has already used AI in its military operations in Iraq and Syria, which helped combat forces to identify the targets from a remote location and engaging them by drone has revolutionized modern warfare.

Read more: Artificial intelligence copilot flew a US military plane for the first time

AI is now an integral part of weaponry or related system used in space, air, land and sea. Threat monitoring and situational awareness rely on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) operations and which majorly supports military operations.

Usage of AI in highly intensive activities for example satellite imagery analysis and cyber defence, aircraft, computers, biotech and nuclear weapons, has taken over equivalent to humans but relying solely on AI regarding nuclear weapons has aroused severe criticism from all corners.

AI systems are less reliant on human input and sometimes the military information under AI is vulnerable to leakage of classified data and strategic information. But AI has enabled network systems to autonomously protect the networks from any kind of unauthorized access and counter-attack in case of cyber-attacks.

Read more: US anti-Russia rhetoric goes nuclear with threats of covert cyber-attacks

Ethical concerns against the benefits

China is in a race with the U.S. on the usage of AI to develop semi-autonomous military vehicles.

As the robots are being programmed to undertake any future missions on their own, there is a risk of imperfection as human lives will be at stake. Fully autonomous weapons “killer robots” would be able to engage targets without meaningful human control.

Debates are underway on whether such killer robots should be allowed to perform such missions or not. Human Rights Watch calls for the preemptive ban on the production and usage of such weaponry.

Regardless of ethical concerns involved in AI but the potential benefits include more informed military decision-making and speed of military action but as the AI is getting vibrancy, manipulation and unpredictability of AI remain a fundamental challenge.

Read more: AI is here to stay. Now we need to ensure everyone benefits

The hacking of any armed drone can be directed apart from the target, resulting in disaster. A prime example is the hacking of the U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel surveillance drone which was hacked by Iran.

Iran claimed to bring down the drone using electronic warfare whereas the U.S. denied it and said the drone malfunctioned. Drone’s commercial usage for delivering wedding gifts or birthday gift has expedited means of delivery and contributed in terms of supplies swiftly.

Read more: Chinese drones adding to the North Korean arsenal

Another arms race

Defence analysts and policymakers are well aware of the future applications of AI and therefore, countries like China, Russia, U.S. Israel and the UK are in a race to excel in the field of AI.

Read more: US military sticks with Microsoft for $10bn cloud contract

According to Belfer Center in 2017, the Chinese government released a strategy to take lead in AI by 2030. Russia is back to international politics as a major global player and therefore, President Putin also announced to excel in AI technologies. The U.S. National Defence Strategy released in 2018, underlined that AI technology will be a decisive factor in fighting and winning future wars.

Mackinder’s theory of heartland and Spyman theory of rimland stand old fashioned in this age of AI and it can be established that “whoever dominates the AI technologies, will rule the world.”

Dr Rizwan Naseer is a strategic security analyst and the views expressed here are his own and do not represent or purport the opinion of his organizations. He can be reached at multirizzz@gmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Global Village Space.