A WOPR OF A BAD IDEA… AI AND NUCLEAR WARAugust 19, 2019
Do you remember the line "I'd piss on a spark plug if I thought it would do any good"? It was one of many memorable statements that came out of the Reagan era. Another was, of course, Reagan's offhand comment captured by an open mic before the mic was actually supposed to be live. The President made a comment about the Soviet Union, and that "the bombing starts in five minutes." The first comment was made by the American general in charge of the NORAD nuclear command center at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, in the 1983 movie, War Games, as the USA's latest super computer, specifically designed to "game out" nuclear war scenarios, decides to run its simulations for real. The computer was appropriately named WOPR, War Operations Plan Response. The whole era (and the movie) was "fun" in that grim sort of Dr. Strangelove way...
... until, of course, the articles started to appear that the Reagan administration was seriously considering a computer-run "launch on warning" response to any pre-programmed condition meeting a threat from the Soviet Union. For example, satellites see a "launch" from a Russian missile silo in Byelokorovichye in the Ukraine. That's "the warning," and as a result, the computerized response is either a limited or all-out US nuclear strike on the Soviet Union. I mention Byelokorovichye for a reason, and a few readers of my books or followers of my interviews will recognaize that name. We'll get back to that.
Now the idea is that of updating the USA's strategic nuclear arsenal with an AI-driven response in an "absorb-and-respond" strategy, due to the new upgrades in Russia's own arsenal, which considerably cuts down the response time American leaders would have in the event of a Russian first strike(this article was brought to our attention by G.B., with many thanks for doing so):
America’s nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) system comprises many component systems that were designed and fielded during the Cold War — a period when nuclear missiles were set to launch from deep within Soviet territory, giving the United States sufficient time to react. That era is over. Today, Russian and Chinese nuclear modernization is rapidly compressing the time U.S. leaders will have to detect a nuclear launch, decide on a course of action, and direct a response.
Technologies such as hypersonic weapons, stealthy nuclear-armed cruise missiles, and weaponized artificial intelligence mean America’s legacy NC3 system may be too slow for the president to make a considered decision and transmit orders. The challenges of attack-time compression present a destabilizing risk to America’s deterrence strategy. Any potential for failure in the detection or assessment of an attack, or any reduction of decision and response time, is inherently dangerous and destabilizing.
... Time compression has placed America’s senior leadership in a situation where the existing NC3 system may not act rapidly enough. Thus, it may be necessary to develop a system based on artificial intelligence, with predetermined response decisions, that detects, decides, and directs strategic forces with such speed that the attack-time compression challenge does not place the United States in an impossible position.
And here's the bad news: Russia did develop such a system, deployed it, and it may be in use today:
The use of automation in the NC3 system is not entirely new. In fact, beginning in the 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union pursued the development of automated systems within the areas of threat detection, logistical planning, message traffic, and weapon-system guidance. Sometime in the late 1980s, the Soviet Union developed and deployed the Perimeter system, which, according to David Hoffman’s book, The Dead Hand, became “ultrafast and automated” once Soviet leadership gave the order — launching the remaining Soviet nuclear arsenal. The Perimeter system is believed to remain in operation today. In a recent interview, Colonel General Viktor Yesin, who commanded Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces in the 1990s, described Russia’s Perimeter system as both improved and functioning.
Now, I know what you're thinking, and the AI-nuclear advocates are thinking it too, according to the article:
However, artificial intelligence is no panacea. Its failures are numerous. And the fact that there is profound concern by well-respected experts in the field that science fiction may become reality, because artificial intelligence designers cannot control their creation, should not be dismissed. For the United States, every option presents significant risk and uncertainty. Reality, however, is progressing to a point where the United States must address the challenge we outlined above. Russia and China are not constrained by the same moral dilemmas that keep Americans awake at night. Rather, they are focused on creating strategic advantage for their countries. (Emphases added)
But there are to my mind at least three more possibilities that are not discussed by the article, and here is where it gets interesting and where our daily dose of high octane speculation comes in. First, as we've noted in many previous blogs, no cyber system is secure. With all major powers, including the USA, Russia, and China, developing sophisticated cyber-warfare capabilities, the possibility arises that any such system in any country might come under the control of another nation, and its arsenal put to its use, either to create a false flag situation, and additionally, there's always the possibility of a non-state actor gaining such penetration and control capability. Admittedly, such a scenario is highly unlikely, since nations embarking on such a strategy are likely to keep such systems entirely insulated from any connection to the worldwide net, but nonetheless the danger does not approach zero.
By the same token, in the race to acquire sophisticated and genuine AI capabilities, one opens the possibility to the AIs "waking up," and a nightmare scenario could emerge where one AI battles another... with nukes. Again, such a scenario may be highly unlikely, but again, the possibility does not approach zero.
But there's a final possibility that may indeed be out of this world, and it's an omission from the article that I find quite intriguing, because I do not think for a moment that this possibility is absent from the secret deliberations and discussions doubtless taking place in the conference rooms of the nuclear powers. And that returns us to Byelokorovichye in The Ukraine. Robert Hastings published a massive study of UFO incidents over the USA's and the Soviet Union's strategic nuclear bases. In the book, Hastings records several incidents over USA missile silo bases where UFOs were able to interfere with the computerized launch and guidance control systems of American ICBMs, at one time taking down an entire flight of ICBMs. IN the Soviet Union, in 1982, a UFO appeared over the Soviet missile silos around Byelokorochichye, and initiated the launch sequence, leaving Soviet missile crews scrambling to try to regain control of the computer systems and prevent the launch. Just prior to the launch, the program was shut down, the UFO flew away, and "sanity" returned.
So one has to wonder if, indeed, this latest round of talk about turning nuclear war over to computers is really directed at Russia (or the USA) at all. Perhaps there's a "behind the scenes" cyber warfare going on, with some rather sophisticated players...
See you on the flip side...