What Is “Military Artificial Intelligence”?

Innovation and Economic Growth and Privacy and Security

Article Snapshot


Braden Allenby


Slate, December 2, 2016


Nations like Russia now use “hybrid warfare” to weaken opponents without using conventional military methods. The rise of new methods of attack make “military artificial intelligence” hard to define. Rules based on traditional ideas of what is “military” will be obsolete.

Policy Relevance

Bans on “military” technology will have little effect on cyberattacks.

Main Points

  • Many observers worry that military artificial intelligence (AI) threatens the human race; however, this potential threat is hard to address, partly because technological and geopolitical changes are making the idea of separate “military” functions incoherent.
  • Some techno-human cognitive systems linked to weapons are capable of significant independent action, but not free will, agency, or consciousness.
  • The United States has overwhelming conventional military superiority, leading powers such as China and Russia to seek to weaken opponents using nonmilitary methods, including financial attacks or attempts to influence elections; the new approach is known as “hybrid warfare.”
  • Large areas of the world, such as parts of the Middle East, are locked in “durable disorder,” with no stable authority and constant low-level violence.
  • Because of the rise of hybrid warfare, “military AI” is hard to define; most emerging technologies from biotech to information communications technologies cannot easily be categorized as military or civilian.
  • Attempts to regulate military AI that rely on obsolete definitions of “military” will be outdated; such attempts will not address most cyberattacks on the United States.
  • Bans on military technology will have much less impact on states using hybrid warfare.

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