Russia and China ‘prepared to go further’ with AI weapons, expert says

Russia and China will be more willing to push the boundaries of AI weaponry, a drone warfare expert claimed in a chilling warning.

Professor Peter Lee, a military drone and automation expert at the University of Portsmouth, has warned that although today's AI weaponry is still a way off the sci-fi films, when it does arrive some countries will likely be prepared to let them run riot more than others.

He says the big question is: "How much permission will you give it to think for itself?"

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Professor Lee said: “For example, you can’t give a drone full autonomy, I mean absolute human autonomy, because it might decide to change sides.”

“If something is fully autonomous in theory that is what they can do.

“Increasingly autonomous weapons will bring some benefit, but the UK’s current position is it will not develop fully autonomous drones.

“Autonomous weapons as they are being conceived at the moment are very far short of the science fiction that we see in iRobot and Terminator and similar films.”

The expert added that while some aspects of autonomous weaponry are developing faster than others, at some point a difficult decision will need to be made about how much freedom countries give it.

He said: “The thing that will be politically controversial, at least in the UK and the West, is what level of autonomy do you give the weapons systems to select its own targets without a human authorising.

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“At the moment that's not been decided and is still being discussed."

In theory, the more AI makes its own calls the more scope there is for things to go badly wrong, the expert believes.

Professor Lee continued: “At some point in the next 10 to 30 years, there will be a divergence between those countries that are willing to allow machines to make more decisions and machines that will be more constrained.

“The UK for example would be on the more constrained side because of its international legal commitments, I'm confident of that.

“Russia, I am less confident of. China, I’m less confident. So those are some of the big challenges."

Discussing why Russia and China might be more prepared to give autonomous weapons more freedom he said: ’“They appear not to be constrained in what they are willing to do.

"Look at Russia, it has bombed a hundred hospitals and military hospitals and medical facilities [in] Ukraine deliberately. You don't hit that many by accident.

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“You have to say that is a country that is not very concerned about the well-being of civilians in a war zone.

“Therefore when you translate that approach to the use of autonomous weapons it does suggest there will be fewer constraints."

Professor Lee compared it to how eager President Joe Biden was to claim no-one else was killed in the recent assassination of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

He added: “If you think about the effort that President Biden went to last night to explain how carefully planned the strike against Zawahiri was not to hit civilians [and] avoid collateral damage you can see politically that’s obviously important."


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