THE DILEMMA OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI) WEAPONS
Masoor ul Hassan
The danger associated with autonomous and semi-autonomous weapons systems is
unacceptable. There exist a near consensus that such weapons must not be completely AI-controlled.
The design must include appropriate levels of human judgment while resorting to
them. This line of thought gains more credence when the present degree of global polarization is
taken into view. The international order is tilting towards autocracy and the likelihood of employment of these weapons is becoming a reality. The norms and values of world politics were subjected to heavy Trumpian Strain in the recent past when the competition of naked power showed its ugliness in international relations.
The Genesis of warfare
The history of warfare is as old as the human race. The Book of Genesis states that Caine
killed Abel to satiate his vengeance. Ever since vengeance, confrontation and belligerence have
remained more pervasive than cooperation and amiability in human relations. The perception of
life as a zero-sum game breeds selfishness and consequent animosity between individuals, groups, or states. Instincts of survival and procreation are reflexive thus natural for all living organisms
including us humans.
War, being one of the forms of human relations,
received due attention
However, what distinguishes Homo sapiens from other living entities is the quest for
controlling the forces of nature like wind, water, fire, and Sunlight for enhancing the level of
physical comfort and peace of mind. This pursuit did improve amenities of life over time but
alongside increased societal complexities. War, being one of the forms of human relations,
received due attention of social scientists for defining ethical and moral issues.
Caine, who may have used a sharp stone, a strong branch of a tree, or simple brute force to
strangulate Abel, would be flabbergasted if he were to visit our times. The civilization we live in
today took centuries over centuries to materialize.
The use of electromagnetic spectrum was considered a game-changer
The use of electromagnetic spectrum was considered a game-changer before Counter Measures (ECM) were developed which then was countered by Electronic Counter-Counter Measures ECCM. When the lethality of weapons created a situation of mutually assured destruction (MAD) the situation became unacceptable. Various treaties like Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), and many more were signed to avert the unacceptable destruction of the human race.
Exercising restraint was never so important
Exercising restraint was never so important before the development of autonomous weapons; chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear. The Perils and Promises of Artificial Intelligence
Harnessing the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in warfare brought a paradigm shift in
the modus operandi of warfare. It eliminated the requirement of direct human involvement in
selecting and engaging targets. Even the smartest of the weapons were hitherto launched and
guided by humans. This development has given rise to the debate of ethics and morality all over
again. António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General joined the skeptics on Twitter where he
wrote in March 2019, “Autonomous machines with the power and discretion to select targets and
take lives without human involvement are politically unacceptable, morally repugnant and
should be prohibited by international law.”
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Group captain Masroor ul Hassan served as Fighter Pilot in the PAF.
He holds an M.Sc. degree in Defence & Strategic Studies (DSS) from
QAU and another M.Sc. Strategic Studies from KU. He can be reached