Opinion | AI threats are the new frontier in weapons control


Henry Kissinger spent much of his career thinking about the dangers of nuclear weapons. But at 99, the former secretary of state said he was “wracked” by a very modern concern – how to limit the potentially destructive capabilities of artificial intelligence, whose power could be far more destructive than even the largest bomb.

Kissinger described AI as the new frontier in arms control at a forum held at the Washington National Cathedral on November 16. If major powers don’t find ways to limit AI’s reach, he said, “it’s just a mad race for some kind of disaster.”

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The warning by Kissinger, one of the world’s most prominent statesmen and strategists, is a sign of growing global concern about the power of “thinking machines” interacting with global business, finance and warfare. He spoke via video link at a cathedral forum on “Man, Machine and God,” which was this year’s theme of the annual Nancy and Paul Ignatius program, named in honor of my parents.

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Kissinger’s concerns about artificial intelligence were echoed by two other panelists: Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO and chairman of the Congress-appointed National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, which released its report last year; and Anne Neuberger, the Biden administration’s deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies.

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A former secretary of state has warned that AI systems could transform warfare like chess or other strategy games – because they can make moves that no one would have thought of but with devastating consequences. “What I’m saying is that when we look at the legitimate questions that we ask them, they’re going to come to the conclusion that they’re not necessarily the same as us, and we have to live in their world,” Kissinger said.

“There are a lot of machines around us that don’t really know how to think,” he continued. “How do you put limits on machines?” Even today, we have fighter jets that can conduct air battles without human intervention. But this is only the beginning of the process. This development after 50 years will be reasonable.”

Kissinger called on the leaders of the world’s technology giants, the US and China, to start an urgent dialogue on how to apply ethical limits and standards for AI.

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Such is the story of President Biden telling Chinese President Xi Jinping, “We both have many issues to discuss, but there is one important issue, namely that you and I, in a unique way in history, can destroy the world by our own decisions.” about this [AI-driven warfare], and here it is impossible to achieve a one-sided advantage. So we have to start from the first principle that we don’t wage high-tech war against each other.”

Kissinger suggested that “the leaders of the United States and China could start a high-tech security dialogue.” [national leaders] about the hazards and how to eliminate the risks that may be related to each other. China has long resisted nuclear arms control talks with the Soviet Union during Kissinger’s years as national security adviser and secretary of state.

U.S. officials say the Chinese will not discuss limiting nuclear arms until they achieve parity with the United States and Russia, whose arms are limited by a series of agreements beginning with the 1972 SALT treaty negotiated by Kissinger.

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The power of AI to change the world was a key issue for Kissinger in the late 90s, led by Schmidt. The two co-authored a book last year with MIT professor Daniel Huttenlocher, “The Age of AI: And Our Human Future,” outlining the opportunities and dangers of the new technology.

Kissinger’s first public comment on AI was in a 2018 Atlantic essay titled “How Enlightenment Will End.” The article’s subtitle reads, “Philosophically, intellectually — in every way — human society is unprepared for the rise of artificial intelligence.”

Kissinger told the cathedral audience that despite all the destructiveness of nuclear weapons, “they don’t have it. [AI] perception, the ability to initiate oneself based on one’s perception, threat, or target selection’.

Asked if he was optimistic about humanity’s ability to limit the destructive capabilities of AI when used in warfare, Kissinger replied: “I remain optimistic in the sense that if we don’t solve it, it will destroy us. … We have no other choice.


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