There is a great deal of unknown when it comes to the future of the military as it converges with technology. As the fear mongers and futurists become more divided, vast gaps between the two continue to go unaddressed. Armed forces worldwide have been utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) for decades and it recently has allowed the United States (U.S.) to facilitate development in a way that it formerly has not, allowing us to best situate ourselves in a hyper-competitive environment. AI’s vital role in the military will only increase in the future. As a country, we should embrace the ever-changing market by staying informed rather than remaining stagnant in our former ways. Nonetheless, will AI lower the threshold of war?

Luminaries such as Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and Nick Bostrom all have warned against emerging technologies, especially AI as they believe that it may bring the apocalypse. In the book, Superintelligence, Nick Bostrom states that once machines surpass human intelligence, will have the power to mobilize and decide to eradicate humans entirely extremely quickly using any number of strategies.[1] He believes that after AI destroys our existence the world will be “a society of economic miracles and technological awesomeness, with nobody there to benefit…a Disneyland without children.”[2] Musk has warned that people should be very careful about AI, as we are “summoning the demon”[3] and Hawking states that the “development of full AI could spell the end of the human race.”[4]

Hesitation Becomes Reality

For centuries, military weaponry has evolved and this result was inevitable with the technological advancements made by engineers and researchers. Just as the Industrial Revolution stimulated the development of powerful and destructive machines such as airplanes and tanks that abridged the role of individual soldiers, AI is permitting the Pentagon to restructure the places of man and machine on the battleground. This is happening in the same way AI is renovating everyday life with computers that can speak, see, and hear and cars that are autonomous meaning they can drive themselves.

Almost undetected outside defense rings, the Pentagon has made AI the focus of its strategy to preserve the United States’ place as the world’s most dominant military power. The government is “spending billions of dollars to develop what it calls autonomous and semi-autonomous weapons and to build an arsenal stocked with the kind of weaponry that until now, has existed only in Hollywood movies and science fiction, raising alarm among scientists and activists concerned by the implications of a robot arms race”.[5] The impact of the rapid expansion of the commercial market on autonomous systems development cannot be overstated. Hence why the Pentagon’s latest budget outlined “$18 billion to be spent over three years on technologies that included those needed for autonomous weapons”.5

Though military leaders say that we are approximately ten years from experiencing this technology first-hand, weapons programmed to kill without any reference to human authority are becoming a reality. Machines integrated with AI capable of using lethal force without a human interference already exist. The United States military has developed pilotless aircraft, unmanned tanks, autonomous drones and robots capable of selecting, shooting and destroying their own targets. Robotic fighter jets that would fly into combat alongside manned aircraft are currently being designed. The Department of Defense has tested missiles that have integrated AI make the decision on what to attack, and it has built ships “that can hunt for enemy submarines, stalking those it finds over thousands of miles, without any help from humans”. The internal workings of the war machinery have evolved since the sixteenth century in response to new technologies and the U.S. military already uses a plethora of robotic systems on the front-line, from bomb disposal robots to reconnaissance and attack drones. The difference to note is that those are remotely-piloted systems, therefore a human always has a high degree of control over the mechanism’s actions.

So, what do you think, will AI lower the threshold for going to war?

Interested in continuing this conversation? Reach out to me on Twitter @Anita_Western! 


[1] Bostrom, Nick. Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. Print.

[2] Cellan-Jones, Rory. “Stephen Hawking Warns Artificial Intelligence Could End Mankind.” BBC News. BBC, 02 Dec. 2014.

[3] McFarland, Matt. “Elon Musk: ‘With Artificial Intelligence We Are Summoning the Demon.’.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 24 Oct. 2014.

[4] Mosbergen, Dominique. “Stephen Hawking Says Artificial Intelligence ‘Could Spell the End Of The Human Race’.” The Huffington Post., 02 Dec. 2014.

[5] Rosenberg, Matthew, and John Markoff. “The Pentagon’s ‘Terminator Conundrum’: Robots That Could Kill on Their Own.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 25 Oct. 2016.