08/21/2017 11:54 EDT | Updated 08/21/2017 11:59 EDT

We Must Stop The Artificial Intelligence Arms Race At Any Cost

AI might have great potential to help humanity in profound ways; however, it's very important to regulate it.

gorodenkoff via Getty Images

My visit to Japan has coincided with the 72nd anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings. On August 6, 1945, the nuclear bomb dropped by the Enola Gay Boeing B-29 exploded, killing an estimated 140,000 people. Three days later, the U.S. dropped the second bomb by the Bockscar B-29 on Nagasaki, killing an estimated 75,000. Within weeks, Japan surrendered. On the occasion of the 72nd anniversary ceremony about 50,000 people, including representatives from 80 nations, gathered at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. During the occasion, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for global cooperation to end nuclear weapons.

Even today, there are victims who are still suffering from the bombings. During my conversations with my Japanese friends, one thing was clear to me: that they all have at least someone linked to their family who was a victim of the bombing. Their stories speak to us. They ask us to introspect about what the world might become.

Toru Hanai / Reuters
A girl prays after releasing a paper lantern on the Motoyasu river facing the Atomic Bomb Dome in remembrance of atomic bomb victims on the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, western Japan, August 6, 2015.

While viewing the picturesque terrain of Japan during a train journey from Tokyo to Kyoto, I was trying to find an answer to a question: At the end of the day, what did nuclear science achieve? Nuclear science was supposed to bring unlimited supply of energy to the power-starved countries of the world.

Nuclear bombs were not what Albert Einstein had in mind when he published the special theory of relativity. However, the bombs killed or wounded around 200,000 Japanese men, women and children. Our trust in the peaceful nuclear program has endangered humanity. The United States and Russia held over 70,000 nuclear weapons at the peak of the nuclear arms race, which could have killed every human being on the planet.

Recent advances in science and technology have made nuclear bombs more powerful than ever, and one can imagine how devastating it could be to the world. These advances in science and technology have also created many unprecedented and still unresolved global security challenges for policy makers and the public.

Many AI experts fear that a terrifying AI arms race may already be under way.

It is hard to imagine any one technology that will transform the global security more than artificial intelligence (AI), and it is going to have the biggest impact on humanity that has ever been. The Global Risks Report 2017 by the World Economic Forum places AI as one of the top five factors exacerbating geopolitical risks. One sector that saw the huge disruptive potential of AI from an early stage is the military. AI-based weaponization will represent a paradigm shift in the way wars are fought, with profound consequences for global security.

Lev Fedoseyev/TASS

Major investment in AI-based weapons has already begun. According to a WEF report, a terrifying AI arms race may already be underway. To ensure a continued military edge over China and Russia, the Pentagon requested around US$15 billion for AI-based weaponry for the 2017 budget. However, the U.S. doesn't have the exclusive control over AI.

Whichever country develops viable AI weaponry first will completely take over the military landscape as AI-based machines have the capacity to be much more intense and devastating than a nuclear bomb. If any one country has a machine that can hack into enemy defence systems, that country will have such a distinct advantage over any other world government.

Without proper regulation, AI-based weapons could go out of control and they may be used indiscriminately, create a greater risk to civilians, and more easily fall into the hands of dictators and terrorists. Imagine if North Korea developed an AI capable of military action — that could very quickly destabilize the entire world. According to an UNOG report, two major concerns of AI based weapons are: (i) the inability to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants and (ii) the inability to ensure a proportionate response in which the military advantage will outweigh civilian casualties

My visit to Japan is also marked by concerns in the region about the possibility of nuclear missile strikes, particularly after U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un threatened each other with shows of force. As Elon Musk said, "If you're not concerned about AI safety, you should be. [There is] vastly more risk than North Korea."

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Students type on laptop computers during a cyber-defence programming class in the "War Room" at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, on Nov. 26, 2015.

AI technology is growing in a similar fashion as the push for nuclear technology. I don't know if there is a reasonable analogy between the nuclear research and AI research. Nuclear research was supposed to bring an unlimited supply of energy to the power-starved countries of the world. However, it was also harnessed for nuclear weapons.

A similar push is now been given to AI technology as well. AI might have great potential to help humanity in profound ways; however, it's very important to regulate it. Starting an AI arms race is very bad for the world, and should be prevented by banning all AI-based weapons beyond meaningful human control.

In 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the government's Pan-Canadian AI strategy, which aims to put Canada at the center of an emerging gold rush of innovation. So, what does this actually mean for the AI arms race that is well underway?

We are living in an age of revolutionary changes brought about by the advance of AI technology. I am not sure there lies any hope for the world, but certainly there is a danger of sudden death. I think we are on a brink of an AI arms race. It should be prevented at any cost. No matter how long and how difficult the road will be, it is the responsibility of all leaders who live in the present to continue to make efforts.

You can follow Pete Poovanna on Twitter: @poovannact and for more information check out

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