Top positive review
Comprehensive Review of Autonomous Weapons
August 26, 2018
If the effect of artificial intelligence on warfare interests you, Mr. Scharre's book provides a comprehensive review of the subject from a practical, technological and ethical perspective. The Army Futures Command has just opened its headquarters in Austin, Texas, with a plan to ensure that the Army is prepared to fight the wars of the future. If this book is not on their reading list, it should be.
Here are a few of the topics that the book covers. First, U.S. Army Ranger Scharre addresses the importance of "context" in combat by drawing on some of his experiences in combat in Afghanistan. The 7 year old girl sent by possibly hostile Afghans to recon his unit's position during an operation in Afghanistan. Under the definitions of war Ranger Scharre and his unit could have shot her, but they didn't because she looked to be about 7 years old. Would an autonomous weapon with the power to kill have made the same decision? Probably not.
The book examines the question of "what is autonomy?" Not all nations define it the same way. What weapons have been built and used that could be considered autonomous. Some exist. Robots and drones - how are these being developed by the Pentagon and by private parties using off-the-shelf parts and software.
Can autonomous weapons be used safely and, if they are used, what are the risks? Speed may be critical. If your opponent uses weapons that simply act faster than any human could, the likelihood is that other combatants will use these weapons as well.
Does mankind "summon the demon" by building and deploying these machines? The book has a lengthy review of the parties and persons fighting to ban these weapons. If also looks at the effectiveness of various weapons bans both in the last century and over hundreds of years. Arms control has a very mixed history.
One possible development may be the centaur warfighter - man plus machine. How do we control the warfighting capacities of machines with ever more capable artificial intelligence? My sense is that the range of outcomes will be tilted from "only with great difficulty" to "we can't."
I was surprised by some of the information in the book, but I hadn't looked at the subject before. I found the author to be very candid, well read, and open in his presentation of the present condition of autonomous weapons. If you have an interest in the topic, I believe that the book will reward your time. Five stars.