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The rapid advance of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning is poised to play an ever-increasing role in the development of next-generation military systems.

Nuclear-armed states will leverage AI, digital and cyber technologies to enhance their national security apparatus, according to a new technology-focused report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

SIPRI’s report The impact of artificial intelligence on strategic stability and nuclear risk (Euro-Atlantic perspectives) mirrors concerns raised by defence and technology experts that the potential benefits of rapid military adoption of advanced AI systems may prove irresistible to some nuclear-armed states.

One fear is that some of these states may choose to lower the level of their safety systems and reliability standards to maintain or develop a technological edge over their competitors, said report author Vincent Boulanin, a senior researcher at SIPRI.

“States might apply different standards in order to review new technologies and determine whether these are in compliance with international law,” he said. “This remains an area which is open to interpretation. Some states may interpret international laws differently to others. They might authorise development and proceed with the deployment of some form of weapons technology that other states might decide against.”

But the wider deployment of AI and associated technologies by world militaries is not taking place in a legal vacuum, said Boulanin. States are bound by legal checks and balances in the use of such technologies.

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