On September 1, 2017, Vladimir Putin addressed a group of students in Yaroslavl, Russia. Speaking of the future, Putin said the development of artificial intelligence (AI) presents “colossal opportunities and threats that are difficult to predict now” and “the one who becomes the leader in this sphere will be the ruler of the world.”
That’s quite a statement coming from the leader of one of the world’s greatest powers. But regardless of whether or not you agree, this is a major story. In fact, it should be one of the biggest headline stories in years. Why do I say that? Because Vladimir Putin, undisputed leader of Russia, a man who controls 7,000 nuclear warheads, made a public admission overlooked by almost every media outlet in the world. I have to assume they missed it, otherwise Putin’s statement would have been the top headline all over the world. Why? Because Vladimir Putin said mutual assured destruction won’t last forever.
The End of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD)
Since 1949, mutual assured destruction (MAD) has been the linchpin of international peace. Fear of total destruction, the idea no one can win a war between two nuclear powers, is all that’s kept us from World War III. But all that is about to change, and Vladimir Putin knows it.
New technologies will one day render MAD obsolete. Artificial intelligence, molecular manufacturing, quantum computers, new missile defense systems, and other technologies will radically alter the balance of power. What if a nation can disable enemy missiles before they’re launched? Or, even if they are launched, what if they can shoot down those missiles before they reach their target? New technologies will make both scenarios possible.
Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have given the world a glimpse of unmanned drone technology. What happens as those drones become smaller and more powerful? What happens when swarms of drones the size of bees or mosquitoes attack a conventional army? What if they attack nuclear warheads? What if swarms of tiny submarines hunt down and disable nuclear submarines? New technologies will make these scenarios possible as well.
Even worse, numerous other threats could crop up, threats we have yet to imagine. As Putin says, artificial intelligence and its associated technologies will present “colossal opportunities and threats that are difficult to predict now.” This inherent uncertainty will further erode the effectiveness of MAD. For instance, what happens if militaries throughout the world decide to place critical battlefield decisions in the hands of artificial intelligence? Could a non-human intelligence spark a global war? It might. And even if it doesn’t, the idea it could will impact the decisions world leaders make.
SOURCE: Britt Gillette