Given the strides made in technology since the end of World War II, and with the degree of political unrest which largely characterizes the new decade thus far, we may begin to speculate what form weaponry would take in a hypothetical World War III. If we look back on previous large-scale wars, many were catalyzed and thus characterized by the newest military technology at the time.
I posit that, given the scale and interconnectivity of the globe in 2020, a third World War would resemble a cold war, particularly mirroring the Space Race which played a significant role in political tensions at the time. The terrifying reality of a third world war is not necessarily the weapons of mass destruction which we can possibly envision. Rather, it is technology that will shake humanity to its very core, one that threatens our place in the universe as we know it: artificial intelligence.
In 2019, virtually most forms of technology utilize at least primitive A.I. Much of the focus currently has less to do with “intelligence,” per se, and more to do with improving machine learning. So, it is important to note how artificial intelligence is often sensationalized. The ultimate goal of machine learning is to reach a point in which sophisticated technology can teach itself based on data it’s provided with — something the scientific community has already accomplished. This is known as deep learning.
Though the notion of autonomous, self-learning and thinking artificial intelligence may seem a distant concept — straight out of a science fiction film — the possibility of an arms race to develop such tech is not so improbable. And autonomous machinery, lacking any sense of stringent morality, comes at a big price. Depending on where political tensions lie, much of the danger associated with A.I. is largely contingent on which nation develops it first. If they maintain any form of corruption or oppressive authority, critics of or threats to the government could be in danger.
What is most terrifying about the potential of autonomous A.I. is its objectivity. At this point, we cannot buy into the fallacy that humanity will conquer all. Consider the classic science fiction example: HAL 9000. A.I. can easily have the upper hand — controlling humans not in ways quite as dramatic as harvesting bodies, but in the same ways humans have controlled each other for centuries: manipulation and coercion. Its potential capabilities in problem solving pose a threat even in mass destruction, hence why the first political body to obtain the technology is so crucial.
While we can make predictions based on our existing knowledge of artificial intelligence and its capabilities, no one knows exactly what will transpire once that technology is created. Specifically in terms of political turmoil and warfare, perhaps the most terrifying aspect of autonomous A.I. is its unprecedented — never has humanity’s spot as an intelligent being been legitimately questioned, challenged, or overpowered. With that reality approaching on the horizon, we are faced not only with philosophical predicaments of life and personhood, but with the practical implications of no longer being the planet’s greatest intelligence.