Firstly my thoughts are with all families on both sides of this pointless conflict. It seems so unthinkable that in the 21st century, the will of a single person can change the lives of so many millions. As I write this no-one really knows how this is going to play out, I can only hope that this war can be ended as soon as possible, and the millions of families that have been separated can be reunited quickly.
Seeing this war unfold over the last 10 days or so has made me think about the use of technology, and specifically Artificial Intelligence, in times of conflict.
The role of Technology in War
Technological advancements have been a key factor in war for as long as humans have been fighting each other.
The most obvious example of this is the atomic bomb and the nuclear weapons that so called super-power countries have which is claimed to act as a deterrent to war.
Previously the rifle was seen as the most advanced technology in warfare. History is full of examples of how technology advances have influenced the outcomes, and in some cases prevented conflicts.
The reality is that technology is used on both sides, and those with the most capable often have an advantage which will in some way help determine the outcome.
This is also not just about traditional weapons. The role of encryption and decryption technologies, also has a significant part to play, as coordination and communications is a vital part of any warfare. For the UK, the well known example of this was during the second world war with Alan Turing at Bletchley Park breaking the German Enigma Code, which has been sited as helping to end the war years ahead of when it might have continued.
In more recent times, we also see the use of technology in the form of Cyber Attacks on country assets and infrastructure, often just ahead of more traditional military actions. We saw this on the eve of Russian incursion, with Ukraine banks and government departments suffering from Cyber Attacks.
Technology will always have a role in War, I really don’t think we can change that.
Maybe what we really should be doing is finding ways in which all of humanity can unite, so we can deal with the real problems that can potentially cause a global extinction event (climate change, solar flare, meteor impact, to name a few).
The role of AI
Artificial Intelligence, is like many other technologies that have come before it. It is essentially the current advancement in technology that can give an edge to any type of activity, either commercial or military.
While the use of AI in a number of different areas, such as cyber security, communications and surveillance maybe slightly more acceptable. There is one area of use of AI that the wide AI industry and leaders have been campaigning very hard, for many years, to prevent.
This is the area of autonomous weapons. Much has been documented on this, and major agreements made to eliminate the use of AI in these applications. See https://autonomousweapons.org, the UK campaign to stop killer robots, the UN office for disarmament affairs and https://www.stopkillerrobots.org.
I do not have knowledge of what level of AI is being used in the Russian conflict with Ukraine, but it did bring this topic to the front of my mind, and I felt it appropriate to write about it in this months newsletter. Personally I have a more utopian than dystopian perspective of Artificial Intelligence and its abilities to impact humanity in a very positive way. But I understand that like any transformational technology, it has the ability to be used in ways that we might feel is unacceptable. I trust that the governments and influential bodies will continue to find the right balance between regulatory oversight and nurturing innovation allowing us to explore the full potential of AI and AGI.