Skip to main content

U.S. Army Considering Fully Autonomous AI Weapons

The U.S. Army is looking into giving full control of some weapon systems to fully autonomous artificial intelligence robots because time is of the essence if you want to defeat the enemy. Cue in the Terminator soundtrack here.

Credit: Foster-Miller

(Image credit: Foster-Miller)

Bruce Jette — assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisitions, Logistics and Technology — believes that not giving AI full access to some weapon systems may increase the Army’s reaction time against an attack, therefore comprising its abilities in the battlefield.

“Time is a weapon,” Jette said at a January 10 talk with defense writers in Washington, "if I can't get AI involved with being able to properly manage weapons systems and firing sequences then, in the long run, I lose the time deal.”

It makes sense: having a human in the middle to authorize the use of force is a disadvantage. When the AI is activated to start taking down a swarm of attacking drones, for example, it may already be too late.

MORE: U.S. Army May Buy 3,000 Scorpion Robots for $400 Million

Jette is working with the Army Futures Command, a new department that is looking at how to counter the quick technological advancements of Russian and Chinese military forces. As we know, Russia and China have no qualms in using AI in any way they can to get an strategic advantage over the U.S. and its allies’ armed forces.

Credit: Lockheed Martin

(Image credit: Lockheed Martin)

For now, however, Jette seems to understand that asking politicians and people to support the creation of completely automatic killer robots will be way too much, so he’s framing it as a defense mechanism: “Let's say you fire a bunch of artillery at me, and I can shoot those rounds down, and you require a man in the loop for every one of the shots. There are not enough men to put in the loop to get them done fast enough."

The Army Futures Command is already working on how to enable this type of systems in a newly-established AI research center at Carnegie Mellon University. This center is investigating how to add the necessary AI hardware and software to weapons systems ensuring that “the weapons don’t get to fire when they want and weapons don’t get to fire with no constrains.”

It seems like the beginning of a weapons race that will not end well at all. As Russia and China make their weapons’ targeting faster and autonomous using AI, the U.S. will have to do the same. It’s hard to believe that these powers will stop these developments, just like it happened with nuclear weaponry in the 50s and 60s.

Except this time, there may be another power at play that may not have any doubt about pressing the red button: Artificial Intelligence itself.

Jesus Diaz

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story and wrote old angry man rants, among other things. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce, and currently writes for Fast Company and Tom's Guide.