Crossing the Rubicon with AI Weapons
Growing up, I was always fascinated with the problem of how NATO forces could win against masses of armor from the Warsaw pact. There was vast numerical superiority in the East that the calculus did not favor NATO.
There was always this theoretical idea that greater mobility and anti-tank weapons would compensate for the lack of armor. What NATO supposedly had in response were dune buggies outfitted with anti-tank weapons!
It seemed like a completely crazy idea that relied on unproven ideas. Of course, I did hope that you could ‘Rat Patrol’ your way into victory against Warsaw pact armor. NATO’s eventual response though was to bring in tactical Nukes. Fortunately, no war ever happened.
Today we see Ukrainians Rat Patrolling themselves into victory. They don’t have dune buggies, but I read that some of them were using ATVs.
Today we have drones and fire-forget weapons that didn’t exist in the 1980s.
The saddest thing though is that AI weapons are now unavoidable. Although today weapons still require humans to pull the trigger. A scarier future is when the weapons themselves decide who is to die or not. War is the gateway drug to the extinguishing of humanity.
Putin must seek peace as rapidly as possible. The alternative is that Russian troops will continue to be used as target practice for a never-ending supply of more advanced Western weaponry.
It can be argued that the West benefits immensely if this war is prolonged. Economic sanctions require years to have their effect. This is because its effect is to stunt growth but doesn’t damage what a nation already has. It took decades for the West to eventually win against the Soviet Union. It takes years of incremental progress. Putin’s failure is that he didn’t realize that 8 years of incremental progress by Ukraine would build a formidable military and a national identity.
Ultimately, the West’s calculus is always tied to more rapid economic growth as compared to its competitor. Without economic progress, Russia will be unable to maintain its empire. Disintegration is inevitable. The world is changed forever because of Putin’s miscalculation.
So every day I see this war continue I see one more day of hatred accumulating against the Russian invaders. This implies that the urgency to end it keeps increasing. It’s ultimately a path without a pleasant ending and it’s sad that so many Russians are resigned to this fate.
Precision-guided munitions are a rudimentary form of Artificial Intelligence. It is these weapons that will win the war in Ukraine. It’s not the masses of armor vehicles, troops, or munitions. It’s the accuracy of hits that ultimately influences the statistics.
Counterfire artillery will win this war. That’s because all the Russians are courageous only to fire their inaccurate artillery (thus leveling civilian targets). Many Western nations have now donated NATO compatible artillery to Ukraine. Any artillery that fires can be quickly located by drones or counterfire radars. Thus the reaction speed of counterfire is critical. The faster you can target and accurately hit artillery is key. All this happens at a distance of several kilometers.
Moving armor can easily be spotted and targeted by drones. These drones fly high enough to be immune to small arms fire. Thus the cost to take down a drone is considerably more expensive than the anti-aircraft missiles to take them down. Going on the move can be a death sentence. Mechanized infantry will also be confined to roads due to mud season. These will be like shooting fish in a barrel for guided artillery.
As I’ve remarked before, the true insanity is that this war is a testbed for AI weapons. The longer it goes on, the faster will be its development. The inhumane reality is that Russian troops are target practice for AI weapons. Human lives at the service of AI development.
It is terrifying to know that Moore’s law has a substantial effect on making killing machines ubiquitous. Conventional wisdom is that more capable weapons keep getting more expensive. A single F-35 fighter costs $80m. Unfortunately, the economics of miniaturization and digitization lead to more deadly and more ubiquitous weapons. Look at this video of a DJI Mavic (~$2k) dropping a grenade on its victims. Now imagine the cost if this was productized!
These are anti-personnel weapons that may do little damage to armor. The bigger Switchblade 600 with a Javelin-like warhead. The Javelin costs $78k per missile. The Excalibur GPS guided artillery round costs $120k. I would guess that the Switchblade 600 costs $60k. Just doing the math, a single $80m F-35 (without weapons) buys you 1,300 Switchblade 600s. Add all the training, maintenance, and support costs and the economics favor the drones. This indeed is a paradigm shift in warfare and it’s very dangerous.
The insanity of war is that it just moves us even closer to self-annihilation. If Russia is successful in this war, we can expect an escalation of AI weapons where no nation or individual is safe. This will make the mass shootings in America look like child’s play.
One fundamental issue with AI weapons is that it creates distance between the executioner and his target. It is similar to artillery. Artillery crews do not have to see the faces of the people they kill. AI weapons however are orders of magnitude more accurate than artillery. It was once perceived that the use of archery was a dishonorable practice in war. Unfortunately, humanity has moved on. Hand-to-hand combat is only done in a sporting ring. Modern warfare consists of advanced archery.
The only noble conflict is one that is played on an even field where losing does not inflict permanent damage. Humans are drawn to conflict, but the humane kind is expressed in our participation in sports. The subjugation of others through violence is without question immoral.
AI weapons are an entirely different kind of violence. It’s the kind of violence that humans do not have to participate in its execution. The dirty work is performed by technology. It’s no different from sending people to gas chambers and cleaning them up afterward. Violence that is automated is the greatest monstrosity that man has invented. Unfortunately, just like climate annihilation, we are headed towards increasingly efficient technologies of violence.
Scientists continue to warn about all of these without being listened to. Its actually been 5 years ago when concerned AI scientists created this video “Slaughter Bots” to warn about weaponized AI. In our information-overloaded infospace, many have forgotten about the message.
Few are willing to ‘look up’ to see the looming catastrophe that is before us. Asteroids, climate change, pandemics and AI weapons are all ignored because we are too busy to take notice.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine helps almost nobody. If anything, it helps advance the development of more deadly killing machines. The ultimate fate of humanity is tied to the tools that we invent. Humanity is doomed when we create tools that are designed to destroy humans.
Trust me when I say to you that machines do not care about anything Russians will care about. It’s a horrifying thought that Russians will become legal targets for fine-tuning newer AI weapons. It’s a path that no human will want. The entire world is already on an exponential track of Artificial Intelligence development. We do not need to throw more fuel into the fire. We do not need more advanced human killing machines.