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It’s now a given that countries worldwide are battling for AI supremacy. To date, most of the public discussion surrounding this competition has focused on commercial gains flowing from the technology. But the AI arms race for military applications is racing ahead as well, and concerned scientists, academics, and AI industry leaders have been sounding the alarm.

Compared to existing military capabilities, AI-enabled technology can make decisions on the battlefield with mathematical speed and accuracy and never get tired. However, countries and organizations developing this tech are only just beginning to articulate ideas about how ethics will influence the wars of the near future. Clearly, the development of AI-enabled autonomous weapons systems will raise significant risks for instability and conflict escalation. However, calls to ban these weapons are unlikely to succeed.

In an era of rising military tensions and risk, leading militaries worldwide are moving ahead with AI-enabled weapons and decision support, seeking leading-edge battlefield and security applications. The military potential of these weapons is substantial, but ethical concerns are largely being brushed aside. Already they are in use to guard ships against small boat attacks, search for terrorists, stand sentry, and destroy adversary air defenses.

For now, the AI arms race is a cold war, mostly between the U.S., China, and Russia, but worries are it will become more than that. Driven by fear of other countries gaining the upper hand, the world’s military powers have been competing by leveraging AI for years — dating back at least to 1983 — to achieve an advantage in the balance of power. This continues today. Famously, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the nation that leads in AI will be the “ruler of the world.”

Read how policy lines up behind military AI here:

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