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Autonomous aircraft taking off and landing

A panel of AI experts appointed by the U.S. government came out against a ban on autonomous weapons.

What’s new: A draft report from the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, led by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, recommends against a proposed international global prohibition of AI-enabled autonomous weapon systems, an idea that many other countries have agreed to. The report encourages the U.S. to expand its efforts in military AI, which include the weapons-ready Northrop Grumman X-47B drone pictured above.

What they said: The commission acknowledges the risks of autonomous weaponry but concludes that an international ban would be both difficult to enforce and antithetical to America’s interest. Commission member and former deputy defense secretary Robert Work told Reuters that autonomous weapons would make fewer mistakes than humans, resulting in fewer battlefield casualties.

  • The members believe that the U.S.’ geopolitical rivals will use AI for intelligence, propaganda, and espionage. Rogue states, terrorists, and criminals will, too. The U.S. must scale up its own AI programs to defend against such threats.
  • They recommend that defense agencies build a shared infrastructure for developing AI systems, with access for trusted contractors. Each agency should invest in more tech training for its personnel, too. To accomplish these and other goals, the U.S. government should allocate $32 billion annually by 2026.
  • The final version of the report is scheduled for publication in March.

Behind the news: Nongovernmental organizations have been campaigning to ban autonomous weapons for nearly a decade. The United Nations has held meetings on the subject since 2014, and at least 30 countries are in favor.

Why it matters: As the world’s preeminent power in both military force and AI, the U.S.’ decisions will be a major influence on those of other countries.

We’re thinking: National defense policy is full of complicated issues, and simplistic slogans won’t lead to the best decisions. On balance, though, we continue to support a global ban on autonomous weapons.


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