August 30, 2019

Strangelove redux: US experts propose having AI control nuclear weapons

Featuring Michael Horowitz

Source: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Journalist Matt Field

Hypersonic missiles, stealthy cruise missiles, and weaponized artificial intelligence have so reduced the amount of time that decision makers in the United States would theoretically have to respond to a nuclear attack that, two military experts say, it’s time for a new US nuclear command, control, and communications system. Their solution? Give artificial intelligence control over the launch button.

In an article in War on the Rocks titled, ominously, “America Needs a ‘Dead Hand,’” US deterrence experts Adam Lowther and Curtis McGiffin propose a nuclear command, control, and communications setup with some eerie similarities to the Soviet system referenced in the title to their piece. The Dead Hand was a semiautomated system developed to launch the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal under certain conditions, including, particularly, the loss of national leaders who could do so on their own. Given the increasing time pressure Lowther and McGiffin say US nuclear decision makers are under, “[I]t may be necessary to develop a system based on artificial intelligence, with predetermined response decisions, that detects, decides, and directs strategic forces with such speed that the attack-time compression challenge does not place the United States in an impossible position.”

Read the full article in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Authors

  • Michael Horowitz

    Adjunct Senior Fellow, Technology and National Security Program

    Michael C. Horowitz is a professor of political science and the interim director of Perry World House at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also an adjunct senior fellow at...