The Rise of AI Warfare

In George Orwell's 1984 novel, there's a reference to surveillance helicopters coming close to the ground to spy on people through their windows. It doesn't sound fantastic today, but his book was first published in 1948, long before such surveillance was possible.

During Covid-19, I lived in Jerusalem, and the police used drones to make sure people under quarantine were indeed at home. As an avid cyclist, I saw traffic police launch drones from orange orchards for traffic surveillance. It's not that strange either, right? A few years ago, this was also sci-fi.

Even though impressive, the sizeable crewless aircraft used by militaries were still too large to make the impression that drone technology should make.

In the Russia-Ukraine war, we finally got to see cheap civilian drones customised with explosive ordnance used with great success by Ukrainian forces against Russian forces, to the point where Ukrainian soldiers are reaching out on Telegram for personal donations so they can order these drones from online shops and then deploy them for warfare. It is much more effective and cost-effective than the initial deployment of Turkish Bayaktars, which are large and expensive. The Russian response was Iranian-made and supplied Shaheds, which, as the name implies, are suicide drones that blow up with the target. The genius behind this drone is that it uses non-sanctioned civilian components supplied by Europe. Much Russian precision technology is also of Western European origin, provided by European manufacturers before the war. If you've missed the irony that Europe is at war with its own technology, then here is me pointing it out.

My writing is not about irony, corruption, and justice; as they say, business is business. The focus is on the future battlefield. Einstein famously said, "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

WWIII has already started, but it's still in its infancy. As the war progresses, we will see the combination of AI and machine learning technology. Instead of seeing drones, we will see weapons that have a mind of their own and can self-deploy. The infamous trenches will not disappear, but their occupants will be intelligent weapons that can make strategic decisions and calculate risk. Weapons will be fighting weapons. The extreme loss of life that we have now on the Ukrainian Eastern front that nobody talks about because of the convenient distraction of the war in Gaza - Kudos, Russia, your propaganda machine is still nicely oiled - in theory, will no longer be part of the battlefront scenery. These smart weapons will make strategic gains as they battle each other across thousands of kilometres of frontlines. I don't have this fear and paranoia that such technology will turn on us, but when you give weapons a mind of their own, their capability of destruction and precision increases dramatically.

Not to mention the psychological aspect for the opposing force that is still flesh-and-blood-based; this is not me pointing at the horror of it all because it's a reality that will come to be regardless of my feelings about it. AI and machine learning technology are here, and as history has taught us, all technology serves the purpose of command and conquer. We talk about the loss of life in war, but there will come a time when we will only talk about the destruction of war. It may sound more appealing at some level, but this is because we lack the understanding that flesh and blood are limited in their capability of destruction. We have a value system, some morals, emotions, strengths and weaknesses; we get tired, and unless we're psychopaths, we have compassion. If you talk to soldiers who went to war, they rarely hate the enemy as much as the people back home watching the news. They have a different relationship to war that AI-based self-learning weapons will never have. There will not be war fatigue. There will not be Christmas breaks. There will be endless destruction. And then we'll have Einstein's World War IV.

But for now, as my cherished Ukrainian adage goes, "Бізнес є бізнес" (Business is Business), it's imperative to forge ahead and develop these weapons before the wrong hands make them.

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