Re: Military applications of SI

From: Jimmy Wales (
Date: Tue Mar 06 2001 - 14:20:21 MST

James Rogers wrote:
> Machines of this level of capability would be vastly more expensive (and on
> many levels, more complicated) than their human counterparts.

Today, this is certainly true. But the whole point of singularity-thinking,
of thinking about the implications of Moore's Law carried out for just another
20-30 years, is that machines of this level of capability will become relatively

> You overlook the combat strengths of light infantry in a theater of
> operations. The obvious disadvantages of human soldiers is that
> they have low firepower, modest speed, and are poorly armored.
> However, they have the enormous value of being extraordinarily
> adaptive to changing conditions, very resistant to the environment,
> far more durable than machines, and capable of operating with very
> little logistical support.

You certainly have a point here, no question about that.

But let's think about what might be possible with computers at 1,000
or 100,000 or 1,000,000 times the power of our current computers *per
dollar spent*. I'm not sure what shape things will take, of course.
I'm just saying that it seems obvious to me that having _smarter_
machinery is going to have important military implications.

I have an autofocus 35 millimeter camera, the Canon Rebel 2000. I can
operate it in full manual mode, which allows me to do some artistic
things (within the limits of my very limited talents!). But I can also
put it in full-auto mode. In that mode, it takes dozens of measurements
in the blink of an eye, and sets the focus and shutter speed according to
an internal algorithm. It doesn't just take a single measurement, but
measures different spots in the field of view and attempts to guess at what
it is that I'm trying to shoot.

It isn't perfect, but it is fast and pretty damn good. It is a lot faster
than I am.

Now think of a super advanced 50 caliber machine gun, 15-30 years from
now, which contains a computer 1,000,000 times more powerful than your
desktop PC, costing roughly the same as an *existing* 50 caliber
machine gun today.

We aren't going to ask that it be a full-blown AI, or anything like
that. The soldier carries it around like a regular machine gun, but
it has a 'full-auto' mode like the mode on my camera. When the soldier
pulls the trigger and start spraying bullets, the gun actually times
the firing of the bullets with an eye towards actually hitting hostiles
and actually trying to miss friendlies.

That requires a lot of intelligence. It requires a serious ability to
do visual discrimination, and a lot of thought has to go into reducing
false positives.

> Even a machine with the mental capabilities of a human
> would be at an extraordinary disadvantage from a logistical
> standpoint and would likely only be used in very limited scenarios
> where such a machine could be safely supported. While humans may
> not have the armor of machines, we tend to be far more durable and
> damage resistant than machines, and of course, are self-repairing
> and for the most part self-supplying. The trend has therefore been
> to augment human abilities; it is cheaper and more effective for
> many military missions. -James Rogers

I agree with everything you say here.

The only thing I would point out is that "intelligence" need not mean
"the mental capabilities of a human". Machine intelligence need not be
as smart as a full human being, in order to defeat us at certain high-speed
specialized tasks... like auto-focus and auto-shutter-speed on a camera.

But I do agree that intelligent military machines will not _in the
immediate future_ take the form of super killing machines, but will
instead be intelligent augments to the existing systems.

My only general point is that I see military implications for AI, all the way
up the chain. Cool, clear-headed rational thought (particularly specialized
thought about identifying hostiles and friendlies) is something that machines
can provide on the battlefield.

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