Perhaps the scariest aspect of the Cold War was the nuclear arms race. At its peak, the US and Russia held over 70,000 nuclear weapons, only a fraction of which could have killed every person on earth. As the race to create increasingly powerful artificial intelligence accelerates, and as governments increasingly test AI capabilities in weapons, many AI experts worry that an equally terrifying AI arms race may already be under way.
In fact, at the end of 2015, the Pentagon requested $12-$15 billion for AI and autonomous weaponry for the 2017 budget, and the Deputy Defense Secretary at the time, Robert Work, admitted that he wanted “our competitors to wonder what’s behind the black curtain.” Work also said that the new technologies were “aimed at ensuring a continued military edge over China and Russia.”
But the US does not have a monopoly on this technology, and many fear that countries with lower safety standards could quickly pull ahead. Without adequate safety in place, autonomous weapons could be more difficult to control, create even greater risk of harm to innocent civilians, and more easily fall into the hands of terrorists, dictators, reckless states, or others with nefarious intentions.
Anca Dragan, an assistant professor at UC Berkeley, described the possibility of such an AI arms race as “the equivalent of very cheap and easily accessible nuclear weapons.”
“And that would not fare well for us,” Dragan added.
Unlike nuclear weapons, this new class of WMD can potentially target by traits like race or even by what people have liked on social media.