Saturday, September 23, 2023

Former DOD chief: US needs a new plan to defeat China with AI

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Wednesday I moderated a discussion with the former defense secretary Ashton carter, who is now director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School. The conversation was part of WIRED CES programming, which addressed the biggest trends that will shape 2021, from medicine to autonomous driving to defense. We answered viewers’ questions in real time. The conversation has been edited slightly for clarity.

Nicholas Thompson: You’ve had an incredible 35-year career in the U.S. government and in the private sector, working for Republicans and Democrats, always trying to identify what is the most important problem of our time, the smartest solutions and the best solutions. fairer means. to think about it.

When you were secretary of defense you had a very rational policy that in every decision to kill a human had to be involved. So if there was an artificial intelligence weapon, it couldn’t make the decision to shoot from a drone. And the question I was wondering about is whether this rationale remains the same for defensive weapons. You can imagine a future missile defense system that can more precisely than a human identify that a missile is coming, more precisely than a human aims for the response, and faster than a human makes the decision. Do we need to have humans in the loop in defensive as well as offensive situations?

Ash Carter: Well, defense is morally easier than offense. No question about it. By the way, Nick, you used the phrase ‘nobody in the loop’. I don’t think it’s really practical. It is not literally possible, and it has not been for some time, to have a human in the decision loop. What you’re talking about instead, or we’re both talking about, is how do you make sure that moral judgment is involved in using AI? Or, put another way, if something is wrong, what’s your excuse? You stand in front of a judge, you stand in front of your shareholders, you stand in front of the press, and how do you explain that something bad was not a crime or a sin? And so let’s be very practical about it.

If you are selling ads, of course, that doesn’t really matter. OK, I advertised to someone who didn’t buy anything – type one error. Or I failed to advertise to someone who could have bought something – type two error. Not much. But when it comes to national security, the use of force or law enforcement, or the provision of medical care, it’s far too serious for that.

In defense, however, attack is the darker responsibility, and defense less. For example, nuclear command and control is heavily loaded with humans, starting with the President of the United States. I, as secretary of defense, had no authority and the people below me had no authority. And as far as possible, we are not allowed to launch nuclear weapons. We needed a code from the president. I myself had a code that would authenticate me, because it is the most serious act of all.

A simpler case is the launch of an interceptor missile at an incoming missile. Now if that doesn’t go right or you do it by mistake, a missile goes up in the air and explodes and you’ve wasted money, and it’s embarrassing, but there’s no loss of life. This decision the president delegated to me, and I in turn delegated it to the commander of the United States Northern Command, General Lori Robinson. And it was normal for it to go down to a lower rung, because it is a less serious act. In between is the power to shoot down an airliner, which is serious as well, but the president delegated that to the Secretary of Defense, so he was sort of a go-between, and I was carrying that on. my shoulder every day. And you’d be surprised how many times that happens, when a plane skids, the radio doesn’t work, it’s heading towards the United States Capitol, and it’s a no-win situation. So it depends.


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