The Problematic Implications of AI

When you start thinking of artificial intelligence in the context of futuristic warfare, things get interesting and problematic in a pretty quick hurry. AI is a fascinating potentiality that science fiction writers like to write into their stories. Ann Leckie uses it extensively in the mind-blowingly wonderful Ancillary Justice (sales link). It’s not a primary theme of The Crossworlds Affair, but the ship is run by an AI, so it’s certainly going to become more and more important as the series progresses.

In any realistic future war in outer space, missile weapons are going to have to be a LOT smarter. In the teeth of electronic warfare vastly stronger than anything we can throw out today, they’re going to need to be able to interpolate target locks from fragmentary data and recognize patterns to break through EW pulses – two primary components of intelligence.

God Herself slapped Excursion as a warhead attack vehicle slashed through her defenses and hit home. It cared nothing that the last of its siblings had been broken into pieces by Excursion’s point-defense autocannon a moment earlier. Its expert system had one purpose in life: to commit suicide by ramming the ship, and so it did. It burst through the outer pearlcote layer of her hull and exploded against the combat shields just underneath.

I keep coming back to this passage – what responsibility do we take on when we make weapons that are smart enough to accomplish these kinds of feats? It certainly seems inhumane to create intelligent machines in order to kill them. War is, of course, the apex of inhumanity. As coerced and inhumane as it is to pack hundreds of young adults and – if we’re honest about it – kids into a metal tube and ship them halfway around the world or halfway around the galaxy and tell them, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, is it not more inhumane and greater coercion to create a life-form that has no knowledge of its own existence until we call upon it to kill and die?

What kind of God is the human race, that we can create such marvels and use them for such monstrosities?

“I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” – J. Robert Oppenheimer, quoting the Bhagavad-Gita after the successful Trinity blasts


On that sunny note, I am off to MarsCon (the Minneapolis, MN one, not the Williamsburg, VA one) today. If you’re there, I’ll be at HMS Artemis (Artemis Bridge Simulator) for The Royal Manticoran Navy quite a bit in addition to various panels. On Monday I’ll have my MarsCon wrap-up.

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One Response to The Problematic Implications of AI

  1. I don’t think that real AIs are going to think remotely like humans – we only started making progress in the development of AI when we stopped trying to make them work like human brains and started trying to make them into very very smart computers.

    Still from an SFnal point of view, we do frequently – in fact usually – see AIs being treated as virtual human characters (take for example Lieutenant Commander Data, the Doctor (from Star Trek Voyager), or Rommie. And Ixion, the artificial intelligence of SV Excursion, follows this tradition.

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