No technology since the atomic bomb has inspired the apocalyptic imagination like artificial intelligence. Ever since ChatGPT began exhibiting glints of logical reasoning in November, the internet has been awash in doomsday scenarios. Many are self-consciously fanciful—they’re meant to jar us into envisioning how badly things could go wrong if an emerging intelligence comes to understand the world, and its own goals, even a little differently from how its human creators do. One scenario, however, requires less imagination, because the first steps toward it are arguably already being taken—the gradual integration of AI into the most destructive technologies we possess today.
The world’s major military powers have begun a race to wire AI into warfare. For the moment, that mostly means giving algorithms control over individual weapons or drone swarms. No one is inviting AI to formulate grand strategy, or join a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But the same seductive logic that accelerated the nuclear arms race could, over a period of years, propel AI up the chain of command. How fast depends, in part, on how fast the technology advances, and it appears to be advancing quickly. How far depends on our foresight as humans, and on our ability to act with collective restraint.