Artificial intelligence poses questions for nature of war: Mattis

US Defense Minister Jim Mattis, seen here at a news conference at NATO headquarters February 15, 2018, is puzzling over the impa
US Defense Minister Jim Mattis, seen here at a news conference at NATO headquarters February 15, 2018, is puzzling over the impact artificial intelligence will have on the nature of war

Artificial intelligence and its impact on weapons of the future has made US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis doubt his own theories on warfare.

A question on the subject prompted the retired Marine general to give an impromptu seminar on his theory of war Saturday to reporters returning with him from a week-long tour of Europe.

Recalling his own writings, he differentiated between the essential nature of war, which is unchanging because it is human, and war's character, which is changing.

"The fundamental nature of war is almost like H2O," he said. "It's equipment, technology, courage, competence, integration of capabilities, fear, cowardice, all these things mixed together into a very unpredictable fundamental nature of war."

"The character of war changes all the time. An old dead German called it a Chameleon because it changes to adapt to its time, to the technology, to the terrain," he said, referring to the 19th century military strategist Carl von Clausewitz.

Mattis explained that today drones are piloted remotely, but tomorrow weapons may be able to learn on their own, adapt and fire themselves.

"The most misnamed in our system is the . It may not have a person in the cockpit, but there is someone flying it, someone over his shoulder, and actually more people flying it than a manned airplane," he said.

"If we ever get to the point where it is completely on automatic pilot, we are all spectators. That is no longer serving a political purpose. And conflict is a social problem that needs social solutions, people—human solutions."

He said he did not know what will do to warfare, "but I am certainly questioning my original premise of the fundamental nature of war that does not change.

"You have got to question that now. I just don't have the answer."


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Feb 18, 2018
That was a good read. It really is a time when the wisest people are humble and uncertain. Science is a such a candle in the dark in these times. My guess? Earth is probably headed for a mass extinction event over the next centuries which will effect humans. All kinds of crazy tech will emerge like AI, but what ultimately survive is that which takes all of nature into account and balances it all, like life forms do now. The mentally myopic will die, the holistic will live. Beauty will emerge in the end. If that beauty is robots, they will resemble biological life in their completeness and belonging in nature.

Feb 19, 2018
Everyone please look at the AI problem this way:

Autonomous weapon that is equipped with autonomous AIs is like a modern day landmines... they'll keep killing & kill innocent lives even long after the war is over, they are after all "autonomous". The invading armies might have come and gone like memories, but the autonomous weapon will keep killing until they are disarmed, and to disarm them will be as laborious OR LESS than it did with landmines (provided that you're lucky and it only run on finite batteries). It is still a murdering machine, do not forget about that.

Feb 19, 2018
Landmines is an example of autonomous weapon that wait and kill people on its own without needing help from any human operator, now look at how terrible this weapon is! It is a banned weapon, and it still kills many innocent lives decades after the conflict is over!

With AI you got a "landmine" with a greater murderous capability.

Feb 19, 2018
Maybe military will actively avoid making any 'landmine' like weapon in the future, but that is not entirely true...

the idea of being able to drop a pod of disposable autonomous drones with attack capability from fighter jet (into enemy territory) and forget about it is compelling. It saves cost and it yield maximum effectiveness. If it's not called 'landmines' then there's no law against this for the moment.

Feb 19, 2018
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