Re: Military applications of SI

From: Jimmy Wales (
Date: Tue Mar 06 2001 - 18:03:41 MST

First, let me say that my point here is not to defend in great detail the
specific concept(s) of how there can be military applications of AI that
go beyond off-the-field tactical support. My ultimate point is only that
it is not hard to see how making battlefield tools more intelligent can be
extremely useful, so that we recognize that there will be military demand
for increasingly intelligent hardware all the way up to human-level AI.

I'm not offering an opinion about whether this is a good thing or a
bad thing. In some ways, it is surely a good thing. I think that
most people were glad -- no matter what their position on the Gulf War
-- that we increasingly have the ability to pinpoint military targets
and leave innocent civilians alone. But of course, it can be a bad
thing if the existence of superior weapons somehow increases the
liklihood of violence and war in general.

James Rogers wrote:
> The problem is that if we presume these levels of technology, then we are
> also almost necessarily presuming a huge number of other changes that would
> render current military doctrine largely obsolete. In other words, the
> assumption of the technological ability obsoletes the scenario required for
> the conclusion -- this change in technology won't happen in a vacuum with
> respect to other military hardware or even to the concept of military
> conflict itself.

Of course you are right about this. This is what makes forecasting difficult;
however it does not argue against military applications in general.

> You don't understand the actual limits on military hardware. In the real
> world, hardware is largely limited by physical/mechanical limits rather
> than computational limits. The most advanced, fastest systems produced by
> the U.S. today (i.e. systems that are still in the testing stage) in terms
> of real-time multiple target discrimination and evaluation typically have a
> MIPS R2000/R3000 or Motorola 68K as their central
> processors. Why? Because, these "old/slow" chips have more than
> sufficient computational power for even the most advanced real-time
> military applications.

If you believe this, then you aren't thinking creatively enough about what the
"most advanced real-time military applications" might be. :-)

Imagine the situation on the ground in Mogadishu, Somalia, during our
conflict there. Soldiers were fighting in the streets against poorly
trained but well-armed guerillas who were perfectly willing to hide in
crowds of women and children. Now imagine a machine gun that could
discriminate -- as well as a human being, but 1000 times faster and
without emotion -- between a woman with a baby and a man with a AK-47.
The gun could do this in _automatic_ mode, making it much easier for a
soldier to fire "randomly" into a crowd while hitting (more or less)
only hostiles and not innocent bystanders.

That's an example of an application of intelligent machinery that is
not at all far fetched given current trends.

And it is clearly desirable, for political and military reasons.

Your objections to this type of system are well-noted. Certainly, an intelligent
gun could make the same kinds of mistakes that a human could make -- and some other
kinds of mistakes besides. And a gun of this type would *not* be used in full-auto
all the time.

But just imagine -- if this capability could be built-in for only
$1000, wouldn't we add it? For $100? For $10? It gives an enormous
amount of flexibility to the soldier on the ground, even if it is

If you still don't like the smart gun concept, then consider some
others -- I'm sure you can think of some more on your own. :-)


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