Kissinger described AI as the new frontier of arms control during a forum at the National Cathedral in Washington on November 16. If the major powers don’t find ways to limit the reach of AI, he said, “it’s just a mad dash for disaster.”
The warning from Kissinger, one of the world’s foremost statesmen and strategists, is a sign of growing global concern about the power of ‘thinking machines’ when interacting with business, finance and world war. He spoke via video connection at a cathedral forum titled ‘Man, Machine and God’, which was this year’s topic in the annual Nancy and Paul Ignatius program, named in honor of my parents. .
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Kissinger’s concerns about AI were echoed by two other panelists: Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google and chairman of the Congress-appointed National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, which released its report on last year ; and Anne Neuberger, the Biden administration’s deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies.
The former secretary of state has warned that AI systems could transform warfare just like they have chess or other strategy games – because they are capable of making moves no human would consider but which have devastating consequences. “What I’m talking about is that in exploring the legitimate questions we ask them, they come to conclusions that wouldn’t necessarily be the same as us — and we’ll have to live in their world,” Kissinger said.
“We are surrounded by many machines whose true thought we may not know,” he continued. “How are restraint devices incorporated into machines? Even today, we have fighter planes that can fight… aerial battles without any human intervention. But these are only the beginnings of this process. It is the elaboration 50 years later that will be breathtaking.
Kissinger urged the leaders of the United States and China, the global tech giants, to begin an urgent dialogue on how to apply boundaries and ethical standards to AI.
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Such a conversation could begin, he said, with President Biden telling Chinese President Xi Jinping: “We both have a lot of issues to discuss, but there is one overriding issue – which is that you and I , uniquely in history, can destroy the world by our decisions. So [AI-driven warfare], and it is impossible to obtain a unilateral advantage in this respect. So, then, we should start with principle number one that we will not wage a high-tech war against each other.
US and Chinese leaders could begin a dialogue on high-tech security, Kissinger suggested, with an agreement to “initially create relatively small institutions whose job will be to inform [national leaders] about the hazards, and who could be in touch with each other about how to improve the risks. China has long resisted nuclear arms control negotiations of the kind Kissinger conducted with the Soviet Union during his years as national security adviser and secretary of state.
US officials say the Chinese will not discuss limiting nuclear arms until they achieve parity with the United States and Russia, whose arms have been capped by a series of agreements beginning with the 1972 SALT Treaty, negotiated by Kissinger.
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The world-changing power of AI became a major concern for Kissinger in the late 90s, with Schmidt as his guide. The two co-authored a book last year with MIT professor Daniel Huttenlocher titled “The Age of AI: And Our Human Future,” which outlines the opportunities and dangers of the new technology.
Kissinger’s first major public comment on AI was a 2018 essay in Atlantic magazine titled “How the Enlightenment Ends.” The article’s caption summed up its chilling message: “Philosophically, intellectually – in every way – human society is unprepared for the rise of artificial intelligence.”
Kissinger told the cathedral audience that for all the destructiveness of nuclear weapons, “they don’t have this [AI] ability to launch on the basis of one’s perception, one’s own perception, of danger or to choose targets.
When asked if he was optimistic about humanity’s ability to limit the destructive capabilities of AI when applied to warfare, Kissinger replied, “I remain optimistic in the sense that if we don’t solve it, it will literally destroy us. … We have no choice.”
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