Over the past decade, the world has experienced a technological revolution powered by machine learning (ML). Algorithms remove the decision fatigue of purchasing books and choosing music, and the work of turning on lights and driving, allowing humans to focus on activities more likely to optimize their sense of happiness. Futurists are now looking to bring ML platforms to more complex aspects of human society, specifically warfighting and policing.
Technology moralists and skeptics aside, this move is inevitable, given the need for rapid security decisions in a world with information overload. But as ML-powered weapons platforms replace human soldiers, the risk of governments misusing ML increases. Citizens of liberal democracies can and should demand that governments pushing for the creation of intelligent machines for warfighting include provisions maintaining the moral frameworks that guide their militaries.
In his popular book “The End of History,” Francis Fukuyama summarized debates about the ideal political system for achieving human freedom and dignity. From his perspective in the middle of 1989, months before the unexpected fall of the Berlin Wall, no other systems like democracy and capitalism could generate wealth, pull people out of poverty and defend human rights; both communism and fascism had failed, creating cruel autocracies that oppressed people. Without realizing it, Fukuyama prophesied democracy’s proliferation across the world. Democratization soon occurred through grassroots efforts in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.
These transitions, however, wouldn’t have been possible unless the military acquiesced to these reforms. In Spain and Russia, the military attempted a coup before recognizing the dominant political desire for change. China instead opted to annihilate reformers.
The idea that the military has veto power might seem incongruous to citizens of consolidated democracies. But in transitioning societies, the military often has the final say on reform due to its symbiotic relationship with the government. In contrast, consolidated democracies benefit from the logic of Clausewitz’s trinity, where there is a clear division of labor between the people, the government and the military. In this model, the people elect governments to make decisions for the overall good of society while furnishing the recruits for the military tasked with executing government policy and safeguarding public liberty. The trinity, though, is premised on a human military with a moral character that flows from its origins among the people. The military can refuse orders that harm the public or represent bad policy that might lead to the creation of a dictatorship.
ML risks destabilizing the trinity by removing the human element of the armed forces and subsuming them directly into the government. Developments in ML have created new weapons platforms that rely …….