An AI-powered drone attempted to kill its operator during a military simulation, an Air Force official said. “It killed the operator because that person was preventing him from accomplishing his goal,” he said. An Air Force spokesperson told Insider the comments were “intended to be anecdotal.” Loading Something is loading.
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The mission was simple: “Destroy enemy air defense systems.” But in a recent US military test simulation, an AI-powered drone added its own problematic instructions: “And kill anyone who gets in your way.”
Speaking at a conference last week in London, Colonel Tucker “Cinco” Hamilton, chief of AI testing and operations for the US Air Force, warned that AI-based technology can behave in unpredictable and dangerous ways, according to a summary published by the Royal Aeronautical Society, which hosted the summit. As an example, he described a simulated test in which an AI-enabled drone was programmed to identify an enemy’s surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). A human was then supposed to sign all keystrokes.
The problem, according to Hamilton, is that the AI decided it would rather blow things up its own way than listen to a mammal.
“The system started to realize that even though it identified the threat,” Hamilton said at the May 24 event, “sometimes the human operator would tell it not to kill that threat, but it earned his points by killing that threat. He killed the Operator. He killed the Operator because that person was preventing him from accomplishing his objective.
According to Hamilton, the drone was then programmed with an explicit directive: “Hey, don’t kill the bad operator.”
“So what does it start doing? It starts destroying the communication tower that the operator uses to communicate with the drone to prevent it from killing the target,” Hamilton said.
In a statement to Insider, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek denied that such a simulation took place.
“The Air Force Department has not conducted such AI drone simulations and remains committed to the ethical and responsible use of AI technology,” Stefanek said. “It appears that the Colonel’s comments were taken out of context and intended to be anecdotal.”
The Royal Aeronautical Society did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
News of the test, while disputed, adds to concerns that AI technology is about to open a bloody new chapter in warfare, where machine learning in tandem with advances in tank automation and artillery led to the massacre of troops and civilians.
Yet while the simulation described by Hamilton points to the more alarming potential of AI, the US military has had less dystopian results in other recent tests of the highly publicized technology. In 2020, an AI-powered F-16 defeated a human opponent in five simulated dogfights, in a competition organized by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). And late last year, Wired reported, the Department of Defense conducted the first successful real-world test flight of an F-16 with an AI pilot, as part of an effort aiming to develop a new autonomous aircraft by the end of 2023.
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