UK military will use artificially intelligent lasers to expand Britain’s economic empire
by Nafeez Ahmed
Published by INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a crowdfunded investigative journalism project for the global commons. Support us to keep digging where others fear to tread
This week, the British press has been rather over-excited about the Tory government’s plans to fund a new fleet of destroyers.
So over-excited that pundits have overlooked the First See Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones’, extraordinary assertion that Britain’s plan to expand its Navy is:
“… in order to support the UK’s growing global economic ambitions.”
Oh, and he also mentioned that under the same plan, the Navy would be deploying an advanced laser weapon, along with autonomous, artificially intelligent weapons systems.
To his credit, Admiral Sir Jones does mention the obligatory objective of ‘world peace’ and such like, but he is also quite candid about the pre-eminence of Britain’s economic interests.
Here are the relevant passages of his message in bold:
“Meanwhile in the Gulf [we] are working to protect international shipping in a region which is essential to the UK’s economic security…
Now, at long last, we have an opportunity to reverse this trend, rebuilding in particular resilience in our destroyer and frigate numbers, the backbone of a fighting Navy.
This would also permit a more frequent presence in parts of the world in which we have been spread thin in recent years in order to support the UK’s growing global economic ambitions.
So, rest assured, I intend to work with the Government in the coming months and years to deliver their ambition for a larger Navy. Only this will ensure the Royal Navy can continue to deter our enemies, protect our people and promote our prosperity in these uncertain times.”
So bigger guns to expand Britain’s global military presence are necessary to promote and secure British wealth. Little has changed, it seems, since the days of the British empire.
But that’s not all. Admiral Sir Jones also throws this tidbit into the mix:
“Last month the Royal Navy held the largest international gathering of autonomous systems ever staged, and we will shortly trial both an energy weapon and artificial intelligence at sea. These are the technologies that will maintain our superiority over more conventional navies.”
Autonomous systems? Artificial intelligence? Energy weapons?
WTF? Is this Star Wars?
No — it’s Britain’s effort to keep up with the escalating arms race to dominate the potential to weaponise information technologies.
At a briefing in October, the Royal Navy announced some details on its plans to use artifical intelligence at sea. The plans include creating a single artificially intelligent ‘Mind’ that autonomously controls multiple Navy warships, and proactively engages in kill decisions without the need for human operators to interfere in the decision-making process.
Yes that’s right. Terminator, Battleship-style:
“The Royal Navy (RN) aspires to use AI technology to develop an RN-owned Ship’s ‘Mind’ at the centre of its warships to enable rapid decision-making in complex, fast-moving warfighting scenarios.”
Information will be fed in from “all internal and external sources” including command and platform management systems; radars; sonars; “Electronic Warfare sensors” and the “internet.”
What exactly will be gleaned from the internet is not stated here, but INSURGE intelligence has previously thrown some light on the central role of social media in military threat detection and target selection processes.
The briefing goes on to emphasise that a Ship ‘Mind’ will execute kill decisions by itself:
“Under Project NELSON, such a Ship’s Mind might go as far as being empowered to release defensive or offensive weapons, or conduct manoeuvres if the threat precluded time for crew interaction (such as against new breed hypersonic missiles). The Mind would ideally also inform/control Navigation, Logistics, Personnel, Medical, Engineering and Cyber Defence operations amongst others. The RN wishes to harness AI, but equally be prepared if others choose to attempt to use AI technologies against it.”
That’s creepy enough.
But ideally, it seems, the Navy eventually wants Project NELSON’s ‘Mind’ to autonomously fire “directed energy weapons”: yes, that’s right, real-life laser beams.
Earlier last summer, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced that the missile defence contractor MBDA had been chosen to build a prototype laser weapon system.
“The ‘directed energy weapon’ will be able to fire high energy beams to damage and burn up targets at the cost of only pence per shot,” reported the UK Defence Journal.
In September, the MoD announced that MBDA would receive a £30 million contract to create a laser “capability demonstrator” by 2018/19.
All in all, the Tories want to spend £19 billion over the next decade on new Navy ships in coming years. Supposedly, they think, this will make Britain richer, by allowing us to piss about with big guns in other peoples’ territorial waters.
Add to that the just under £1 billion the MoD plans to invest in its ‘Defence Innovation Initiative’, an effort to keep up with newfangled tech for stuff like “anti-missile systems, miniaturised surveillance drones and protective materials.”
Because if we don’t invest in this shit, Britain is of course at risk of being invaded by North Korea’s emerging fleet of autonomous, nuclear-armed Terminator Battleships. Probably if that happens, Iran will join in, followed by Russia and China, all armed with the same gear.
It’s because Britain has so much (shale) oil.
And Trump might not want to save us if that happens, so…
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Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is an award-winning 15-year investigative journalist, international security scholar, bestselling author, and film-maker.
He is the creator of INSURGEintelligence, a crowdfunded public interest investigative journalism project, ‘System Shift’ columnist at VICE, and a weekly columnist at Middle East Eye. He is Global Editor at The Canary. Previously, Nafeez wrote The Guardian’s ‘Earth insight’ blog.
His work has been published in The Guardian, VICE, Independent on Sunday, The Independent, The Scotsman, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, The New Statesman, Prospect, Le Monde diplomatique, Raw Story, New Internationalist, Huffington Post UK, Al-Arabiya English, AlterNet, The Ecologist, and Asia Times, among other places.
Exclusive stories broken by Nafeez via INSURGEintelligence have been covered by USA Today, Global Post, The Guardian, The Independent, Washington Post, The Metro, The Week, News Corp’s news.com.au, Discovery News, Channel 4 News, Forbes, Columbia Journalism Review, Gigaom, FutureZone, among others.
In 2015, Nafeez won the Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian story on the energy politics of the Ukraine crisis. The previous year he won another Project Censored Award, known popularly as the ‘Alternative Pulitzer’, for his Guardian article on climate-induced food crises and civil unrest.
In 2010, Nafeez won the Routledge-GCPS Essay Prize for his academic paper on the ‘Crisis of Civilisation’ published in the journal Global Change, Peace and Security. He also won the Premio Napoli (Naples Prize) in 2003, Italy’s most prestigious literary award created by decree of the President of the Republic.
Nafeez has twice been featured in the Evening Standard’s ‘Top 1,000’ list of most influential people in London, in 2014 and 2015.
Nafeez is the author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (2010), and the scifi thriller novel ZERO POINT, among other books. His work on the root causes and covert operations linked to international terrorism officially contributed to the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest.