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Experts suggest giving artificial intelligence control of America's nukes

Yes, the proposal does sound a lot like the "Doomsday Machine" from "Dr. Strangelove."
Credit: 2nd Lt. William Collette/U.S. Air Force via AP
FILE: Unarmed Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile launch

America needs a "dead hand," two researchers and experts in U.S. military technology say.

In a column for the military blog War on the Rocks, Air Force Institute of Technology Associate Dean Curtis McGiffin and Lousiana Tech Research Institute researcher Adam Lowther argue that the United States needs to develop a better response system to nuclear threats.

Their proposal: Use artificial intelligence.

The two men say the current NC3 system has components designed during the Cold War, but now "may be too slow for the president to make a considered decision and transmit orders" in the event another country launches nuclear weapons our way. 

The Cold War is long over, and new defense technologies like hypersonic weapons and weaponized AI mean the US' system might not be able to connect the president and Armed Forces in time to make the best decision.

These two experts suggest the country's military should create something that sounds straight out of a Cold War-era science fiction film: "an automated strategic response system based on artificial intelligence."

Yes, the men say, the proposal does sound like "Dr. Strangelove's" Doomsday Machine and even "Terminator's" Skynet. But, they argue, using artificial intelligence as a defense and offense measure could mean instant detection of and reaction to a nuclear attack.

The relationship between nuclear weapons and AI technology isn't new. According to the United Nations University, the United States and the former Soviet Union were considering the role artificial intelligence could play in their nuclear defense systems. 

The UN said the Soviet Union is the only country to develop a fully-automated system for its nuclear weapons. The "Dead Hand" system was meant to be activated only in the case of an attack so severe that no one was left to control the country's weapons.

A 2018 RAND Corporation report showed some experts believe that AI technology makes the world less safe from nuclear war by destabilizing global relations. Others believed it could make the world safer.

An example of the possibilities of an AI-controlled nuclear weapons system came in 1983. Soviet Lt. Colonel Stanislav Petrov was monitoring radar and saw what appeared to be an American missile head for the USSR.

In a Washington Post report from 1999, "the alarms went off. On the panel in front (of) him was a red pulsating button. One word flashed: 'Start.'"

Petrov didn't press the button, he waited, assuming it was a technical error. It was.

"I had a funny feeling in my gut," Petrov said in 1999. "I didn't want to make a mistake. I made a decision, and that was it."

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