A Stable Nuclear Future? The Impact of Autonomous Systems and Artificial Intelligence

12/11/2019
by   Michael C. Horowitz, et al.
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The potential for advances in information-age technologies to undermine nuclear deterrence and influence the potential for nuclear escalation represents a critical question for international politics. One challenge is that uncertainty about the trajectory of technologies such as autonomous systems and artificial intelligence (AI) makes assessments difficult. This paper evaluates the relative impact of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence in three areas: nuclear command and control, nuclear delivery platforms and vehicles, and conventional applications of autonomous systems with consequences for nuclear stability. We argue that countries may be more likely to use risky forms of autonomy when they fear that their second-strike capabilities will be undermined. Additionally, the potential deployment of uninhabited, autonomous nuclear delivery platforms and vehicles could raise the prospect for accidents and miscalculation. Conventional military applications of autonomous systems could simultaneously influence nuclear force postures and first-strike stability in previously unanticipated ways. In particular, the need to fight at machine speed and the cognitive risk introduced by automation bias could increase the risk of unintended escalation. Finally, used properly, there should be many applications of more autonomous systems in nuclear operations that can increase reliability, reduce the risk of accidents, and buy more time for decision-makers in a crisis.

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