U.S., China team up, but 'nobody wants to see AI nuclear weapons'

Russian state TV simulates a nuclear attack on Western Europe in May 2022. (Video screenshot)
Russian state TV simulates a nuclear attack on Western Europe in May 2022.

China has indicated an attitude of cooperation on the issue of artificial intelligence. It has even suggested joining international talks on the challenges the world faces.

And bureaucrats in the Joe Biden administration are happy about that, with confirmation that the White House “is interested in engaging China.”

But a prominent China expert, Gordon Chang, is warning America to go slow.

“America does not need another feel-good agreement with China. It already has them, especially the Biological Weapons Convention, which has no enforcement mechanisms. China’s solemn obligations in that pact did not prevent the regime from maintaining a string of biological weapons facilities, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and deliberately spreading COVID-19 beyond its borders,” he warned in a column at the Gatestone Institute, where he is a distinguished senior fellow.

“Whatever China wants is almost certainly not in the interest of either the United States or the international community. The risk is that, in another unenforceable agreement, the United States will forego employing critical advantages that AI affords in targeting conventional munitions.”

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He noted China has “signaled” its interest in talks about AI, and Bonnie Glaser of the Merman Marshall Fund for the Breaking Defense Site said that should be welcomed.

The White House would like to engage China, she said.

“Nobody wants to see AI controlled nuclear weapons, right?” asked Joe Wang, a former State Department and NSC staffer now at the Arlington, Virginia-based Special Competitive Studies Project, which specializes in AI and emerging technologies, Chang explained. “Like, even the craziest dictator can probably agree.”

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, equipped with a test reentry vehicle, is launched during an operational test at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, Feb. 25, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyla Gifford)
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, equipped with a test reentry vehicle, is launched during an operational test at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, Feb. 25, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyla Gifford)

Chang, however, issued his warning.

“Yes, ‘AI is a civilization-altering technology,’ as technology analyst Brandon Weichert told Gatestone, and, no, no one should want machines to control the launch of nuclear weapons.”

He cited “WarGames,” a 1983 movie about a computer simulating an all-out Soviet attacks.

“Life imitates art. In the first few hours of September 26, 1983, one Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov happened to be the duty officer at the Serpukhov-15 early-warning center south of Moscow. Successive alarms indicated that America had launched five Minuteman missiles from Montana toward Mother Russia. More than thirty reliability checks in Serpukhov-15 confirmed the attack was indeed taking place. Soviet procedures required a retaliatory launch.”

But he didn’t, because “a feeling inside told me something was wrong.”

Right. “Sensors aboard the Kosmos 1382 satellite misinterpreted sunlight bouncing off the tops of clouds as incoming missiles,” Chang explained.

But he said, “An AI-controlled system in this situation would have launched what it thought was a counterstrike on the American homeland but in reality would have been a first strike. As advanced as AI technology is, it is not possible to include ‘gut feelings’ in algorithms.”

He said, “Whether we like it or not, the world is witnessing the ‘Rise of the Machines.’ The prospect of killer robots is chilling — even for those who have not seen any of the Terminator movies— but such horrible devices, like nuclear weapons, cannot be legislated away. Many may feel that it is unfortunate that humanity has made ghastly creations possible, but agreements with inherently untrustworthy regimes, such as China’s, will not remedy the situation.”

He explained China wants to “talk” about AI “largely because it is trailing the U.S. and thinks an agreement would help it catch up.”

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