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The Pentagon's 'terminator Conundrum': Robots That Could Kill on Their Own

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An army of Terminators from "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines."

Experts warn of the "Terminator condundrum," in which thinking weapons trigger a new arms race.

Credit: Warner Brothers

The Pentagon has made artificial intelligence (AI) the core of its agenda to maintain the U.S. position as the world's leading military power, developing autonomous and semiautonomous weapons.

The concept involves humans controlling the AI weapons, which would enhance and amplify military tacticians' creativity and problem-solving skills.

One technical challenge is developing robots predictable enough to be safely deployed but sufficiently flexible to accommodate changing conditions. The Pentagon plans to combine computers' pattern-recognition abilities with humans' skills for handling uncertainty and unpredictability while also avoiding a scenario in which AI weapons become threatening.

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work says when it comes to making life-or-death decisions, "there will always be a man in the loop." However, leading experts warn of a future where perfected thinking weapons trigger a new arms race in which enemy states and extremists can acquire them readily and inexpensively. Such a scenario gives rise to what Pentagon insiders call a "Terminator conundrum" centered on the debate about how independent weapons should be.

Of prime concern is whether the U.S. should push for an international accord banning the creation of such weapons, or develop its own to stay ahead of adversaries.

From The New York Times
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