There are many people in both the mainstream new and on the fringes yelling about the dangers that Artificial Intelligence poses to our safety as a race. As the theory goes, one military or another will invent both machine-learning commanders and killer robots for them to command. Once this happens they will eventually turn on us and we will go extinct as a species. This is entirely possible. You can never rule anything out when it comes to what will happen. I would like to offer you all a more optimistic vision. What if I told you that these technologies could theoretically lead to a final extinction of conventional warfare?
Lets take this idea one idea at a time. We can start with artificial intelligence. We know that the United State, China, and the Russian Federation are currently in a cold war style arms race to most successfully militarize AI technology. We also know that the United States is currently leading the pack, but that the Chinese are not far behind. The Chinese also have an edge due to their willingness to practice translatable features on their own population without at least pretenses like the US. Once one of these nations has a break through they will have a trump card over all other nations until a similar technology can be unlocked. The pioneering nation will be able to gather intelligence more efficiently, execute more targeted and effective cyber attacks, and generally make battlefield decisions both faster and with more applicable factors than any human commander possibly could. This is essentially the take of the doom criers. They see these applications and they fear it will be another atom bomb. Lets leave this here for just a moment.
The other simultaneously developing technology is “terminators” autonomous combat drones that operate completely without pilots and could fairly easily be fortified and armed to the point that no conventional soldiers would be able to do battle with them. The theory of our doom criers is that these will be abused to butcher civilians by the hundreds or even thousands and that if control is some how lost they could easily turn or be turned against their masters. This is not just a fear for infantry units but is a fear for unmanned aerial drones that has been around for some time now.
What the doom-sayers don’t seem to be considering however is how these technologies can individually reduce the odds of warfare, and cancel each other out when war would otherwise break out. I’ve thought of a few scenarios for you to consider as examples.
Scenario one: An AI attacks the power grid of a nation and effectively shuts off utilities to a large are of given nation. The assaulted nation operating from “shielded” networks and grids responds in kind. Urban centers will be paralyzed and could see a large amount of rioting but any even modestly prepared city can survive with relative ease. This is especially true if local utilities and authorities can respond and return networks to working conditions in short order. Effectively what all this comes out to is rolling black outs and a lot of urban citizens are upset with no real winner.
Scenario two: No political leadership wants to expend more political capital than is necessary on a war. As such all future “police action” and occupations are conduct with land and air drones. This seems cleaner, more efficient, and could let the civilian population live with the illusion that they are not at war. A sufficiently advanced enemy could theoretically use a sort of cyber attack by the above mentioned AI to simply “switch off” the drones, or failing that an EMP. All the same there would not have to be any deaths.
Scenario three: Seeing the dangers of Artificial Intelligence the focus becomes solely on these pilot less drone technologies. Without the need to keep them supplied with food, water, or relatively stable climate any conventional attacks can be launched in sparsely populated wasteland like areas where conventional armies could travel as effectively. Think about places like the Sahara, Siberia, or Death Valley as examples of this sort of thing. So we see two robot armies smacking each other around laying waste to areas that are already sparsely populated to the point that it would hardly matter.
Now as I stated at the beginning these are all rather optimistic takes. It is highly unlikely that we will ever see an end to human warfare. These technologies could serve as a nuclear style deterrent all by themselves and that might be the best scenario. If they are ever deployed against each other though we shouldn’t rule out these possibilities. We shouldn’t rule them out even if it is just for humanitarian hopes and prayers.
Now before anyone’s hopes get up too much, the end of conventional warfare has troubling implications of its own. Since the invention of the atom bomb we have seen a sharp decline in war casualties and the pervasiveness of war. As this continues we have seen ac corresponding rise in police state style authoritarianism. This will be the concern. If the state can’t convince you to rally around the flag and give up your freedom for the sake of defeating the other, then it will do away with the pretenses and oppress you directly. You’ve been warned, we could see the end of conventional warfare in our life time. We really could, but what horror will follow that?