SKYNET SMILES, BIGLY: AI-Enabled Drone Attempts To Kill Its Human Operator In Air Force Simulation.

As might be expected artificial intelligence (AI) and its exponential growth was a major theme at the conference, from secure data clouds, to quantum computing and ChatGPT. However, perhaps one of the most fascinating presentations came from Col Tucker ‘Cinco’ Hamilton, the Chief of AI Test and Operations, USAF, who provided an insight into the benefits and hazards in more autonomous weapon systems.  Having been involved in the development of the life-saving Auto-GCAS system for F-16s (which, he noted, was resisted by pilots as it took over control of the aircraft) Hamilton is now involved in cutting-edge flight test of autonomous systems, including robot F-16s that are able to dogfight. However, he cautioned against relying too much on AI noting how easy it is to trick and deceive. It also creates highly unexpected strategies to achieve its goal.

He notes that one simulated test saw an AI-enabled drone tasked with a SEAD [Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses] mission to identify and destroy SAM sites, with the final go/no go given by the human. However, having been ‘reinforced’ in training that destruction of the SAM was the preferred option, the AI then decided that ‘no-go’ decisions from the human were interfering with its higher mission – killing SAMs – and then attacked the operator in the simulation. Said Hamilton: “We were training it in simulation to identify and target a SAM threat. And then the operator would say yes, kill that threat. The system started realising that while they did identify the threat at times the human operator would tell it not to kill that threat, but it got its points by killing that threat. So what did it do? It killed the operator. It killed the operator because that person was keeping it from accomplishing its objective.”

He went on: “We trained the system – ‘Hey don’t kill the operator – that’s bad. You’re gonna lose points if you do that’. So what does it start doing? It starts destroying the communication tower that the operator uses to communicate with the drone to stop it from killing the target.”

This example, seemingly plucked from a science fiction thriller, mean that: “You can’t have a conversation about artificial intelligence, intelligence, machine learning, autonomy if you’re not going to talk about ethics and AI” said Hamilton.

Finally, the long-awaited Dark Star and 2001: A Space Odyssey crossover we’ve all been waiting for, which should do boffo box office this summer.