Could artificial intelligence lead to nuclear apocalypse?


For AI specifically,  the increased application of advanced machine learning in defense systems can speed up warfare – giving decision-makers even less time to consider whether or not to launch nuclear weapons - something already measured in minutes, as illustrated in the video below. The risks of unintended consequences from the application of new artificial intelligence technologies without understanding the full implications of these technologies. 

The use of AI in satellite and other intelligence detection systems will also make it more difficult to keep historically concealed nuclear weapons, such as ballistic missile submarines, hidden. Alternatively, the ability to spoof these systems is unknown and can have terrifying consequences.

These risks are also compounded by the other risks posed by the rise of emerging technologies and cyber warfare: 

  • Cyber attacks could manipulate the information decision-makers get to launch nuclear weapons, and interfere with the operation of nuclear weapons themselves;
  • It is impossible to eliminate the risk of core nuclear weapons systems being hacked or compromised;


Could artificial intelligence lead to nuclear apocalypse? 

Any combination of machine learning and nuclear weapons would lead to less human control over nuclear weapons launches as well as  a dangerous reduction of the already short time for decision-making in a nuclear crisis. This means there is a  greater risk they would  be used, which has led to growing concern among nuclear and AI experts

While, as far as we know, no countries have enabled AI to make the actual decision to launch nuclear weapons, the use of AI in sensors and targeting shortens the already limited  time in which a decision on whether or not to use a nuclear weapon would be taken in the event of a crisis. There have been many historic examples of near misses, and simply adding a human to make the final launch decision is not enough.

As illustrated in Annie Jacobsen’s Nuclear War: a scenario and Princeton’s Plan A study, the current decision making process to launch nuclear weapons is already rushed and without time for adequate reflection. 

It would be a decision taken in moments that would impact humanity for millennia.