Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War

Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War

The era of autonomous weapons has arrived. Today around the globe, at least thirty nations have weapons that can search for and destroy enemy targets all on their own. Paul Scharre, a leading expert in next-generation warfare, describes these and other high tech weapons systems—from Israel’s Harpy drone to the American submarine-hunting robot ship Sea Hunter—and examines the legal a...

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Title:Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War
Author:Paul Scharre
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Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War Reviews

  • Juan Rivera

    Each year Bill Gates recommends the 5 books that he has liked the most. An avid reader and quite good tastes. I almost always follow his recommendations.

    Of the books he recommends he had already read one, today I finished "Army of None: autonomous weapons and the future of war" written by Paul Scharre.

    To think many topics:

    - Artificial intelligence is progressing more and more, there are even programs that, in developing this intelligence, obtain unpredictable results for humans

    Each year Bill Gates recommends the 5 books that he has liked the most. An avid reader and quite good tastes. I almost always follow his recommendations.

    Of the books he recommends he had already read one, today I finished "Army of None: autonomous weapons and the future of war" written by Paul Scharre.

    To think many topics:

    - Artificial intelligence is progressing more and more, there are even programs that, in developing this intelligence, obtain unpredictable results for humans. This can happen with the weapons that have AI ... They can end up being against us as we have already seen in some movies.

    - The control of autonomous weapons is a big problem. If we have central and human control they could affect the communications with them and control them, if not, we are practically leaving them alone. These weapons will have no heart and will do whatever is necessary to achieve their goals, however rare and bad it may seem.

    - The prohibition to use autonomous weapons works for the times of peace, who knows what the world powers already have of armament and how they will react in a real war.

    - The decision-making times are becoming shorter. The more quickly you need more outside, the human remains of the decision factor. How healthy can this be?

    I recommend this book to everyone, but especially those who study systems or robotics ... a lot to think about ...

  • Szymon Warda

    It took me a while to start reading the book and I've struggled through the first 10%. Not because it is bad, but because my point of view was that automated warfare is the way things will go.

    The book showed a much broader perspective and how automation complicates war and politics.

    But if it was the only thing that cought my attention in this book I wouldn't rate it so high. It is also a very realistic view of what questions we will need to ask ourselves before, or during the develop

    It took me a while to start reading the book and I've struggled through the first 10%. Not because it is bad, but because my point of view was that automated warfare is the way things will go.

    The book showed a much broader perspective and how automation complicates war and politics.

    But if it was the only thing that cought my attention in this book I wouldn't rate it so high. It is also a very realistic view of what questions we will need to ask ourselves before, or during the development of AI systems. Why? Because warfare will be the main and most lethal testing ground for human - AI interaction. In both roles - supporting and making decisions.

    As for AI, this book presents a more realistic vision and asks relevant questions than Superintelligence. I highly recommend it.

  • Darnell

    I enjoyed this book considerably. I went back and forth on the rating, but since I statistically don't give enough five star ratings, I'll bump it up. This book isn't perfect but it has a lot to say about automation in a readable style.

    Beyond that, I don't have many comments. It's an excellent description of issues regarding automation in warfare, a decent exploration of some general AI risks, and a start at considering policy. Looking at criticism of the book, I think it's a more nu

    I enjoyed this book considerably. I went back and forth on the rating, but since I statistically don't give enough five star ratings, I'll bump it up. This book isn't perfect but it has a lot to say about automation in a readable style.

    Beyond that, I don't have many comments. It's an excellent description of issues regarding automation in warfare, a decent exploration of some general AI risks, and a start at considering policy. Looking at criticism of the book, I think it's a more nuanced and balanced take than many.

  • Daniel

    Good book that explores the future of autonomous weapons. These weapons range from loitering munitions to drones to nuclear command and control systems (think war games). Further, the book explores not only advancements in technology, but the ethics and morality of developing these types of systems.

  • Bill Gates

    When I was a kid, I read a lot of sci-fi books. One of the most common themes was “man vs. machine,” which often took the form of robots becoming self-aware and threatening humanity. This theme has also become a staple of Hollywood movies like

    and

    .

    Despite the prevalence of this theme, I don’t lose any sleep worrying about this scenario. But I do think we should spend more time thinking about the implications—positive and negative—of recent progress in artificial intelligence, m

    When I was a kid, I read a lot of sci-fi books. One of the most common themes was “man vs. machine,” which often took the form of robots becoming self-aware and threatening humanity. This theme has also become a staple of Hollywood movies like

    and

    .

    Despite the prevalence of this theme, I don’t lose any sleep worrying about this scenario. But I do think we should spend more time thinking about the implications—positive and negative—of recent progress in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and machine vision. For example, militaries have begun to develop drones, ships, subs, tanks, munitions, and robotic troops with increasing levels of intelligence and autonomy.

    While this use of A.I. holds great promise for reducing civilian casualties and keeping more troops out of harm’s way, it also presents the possibility of unintended consequences if we’re not careful. Earlier this year, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres

    to these threats: “The weaponization of artificial intelligence is a growing concern. The prospect of weapons that can select and attack a target on their own raises multiple alarms…. The prospect of machines with the discretion and power to take human life is morally repugnant.”

    Unfortunately, my first attempt to educate myself on autonomous weapons was a bust. I read a book that was dry and felt really outdated. Then a few months ago I picked up

    , by Paul Scharre. It’s the book I had been waiting for. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

    Scharre is a great thinker who has both on-the-ground experience and a high-level view. He’s a former Army Ranger who served four tours of combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He then went onto a policy role at the U.S. Department of Defense and led the working group that drafted the government’s policy on autonomous weapons. He’s currently a policy expert at the Center for a New American Security, a center-left think tank in DC.

    He is also a good writer. Scharre writes clearly about a huge range of topics: computer science, military strategy, history, philosophy, psychology, and ethics. He gives you the right grounding to start participating in the debate over where our country should draw the line on these powerful technologies.

    Scharre makes clear from the beginning that he has no problem with some well-bounded military uses of autonomy. For example, he brings you along for a tour of the U.S. Navy’s Aegis Combat System, an advanced system for tracking and guiding missiles at sea. Aegis has a mode of operation in which human operators delegate all firing decisions to an advanced computer (but can override them if necessary). Why would you want to put a computer in charge? If you’re out at sea and an enemy fires 50 missiles at you all at once, you’d be very happy to have a system that can react much faster than a human could.

    also shows that autonomy has great benefits in environments where humans can’t survive (such as flight situations with high G forces) or in which communications have broken down. It can be enormously helpful to have an unmanned drone, tank, or sub that carries out a clear, limited mission with little communication back and forth with human controllers.

    In addition, autonomous weapons could potentially help save civilian lives. Scharre cites robotics experts who argue that “autonomous weapons … could be programmed to never break the laws of war…. They wouldn’t seek revenge. They wouldn’t get angry or scared. They would take emotion out of the equation. They could kill when necessary and then turn killing off in an instant.”

    Despite these and other advantages, Scharre does not want the military ever to turn over

    to computers. To make his case, he offers compelling real-life cases in which human judgment was essential for preventing needless killing, such as his own experiences in Afghanistan. “A young girl of maybe five or six headed out of the village and up our way, two goats in trail. Ostensibly she was just herding goats, but she [was actually] spotting for Taliban fighters.” Scharre’s unit did not shoot. Yes, it would have been legal, but he argues that it would not have been morally right. A robotic sniper following strict algorithms might well have opened fire the second it detected a radio in her hand.

    Scharre ends the book by exploring the possibility of an international ban on fully autonomous weapons. He concludes that this kind of absolute ban is not likely to succeed. However, he holds out hope that enlightened self-interest could bring countries together to ban specific uses of autonomous weapons, such as those that target individual people. He also believes it’s feasible to establish non-binding rules of the road that could reduce the potential for autonomous systems to set each other off accidentally. He also believes we could update the international laws of war to embed a common principle for human involvement in lethal force.

    There are no easy answers here. But I agree with Scharre that we have to guard against becoming “seduced by the allure of machines—their speed, their seeming perfection, their cold precision.” And we should not leave it up to military planners or the people writing software to determine where to draw the proper lines. We need many experts and citizens across the globe to get involved in this important debate.

  • Matt Seraph

    We've gotten used to a certain model of popularized knowledge: a clear thesis, summarized on the back of the book, and a chapter by chapter marshalling of evidence in support.

    Army of None is from a different school, and frustrating if you ask that of it. Rather than a single argument, it is structured as a thematic literature survey, exploring topics as diverse as the targeting systems of Aegis Combat system equipped submarines, cyber warfare, and philosophy of the rules of armed engagement. Th

    We've gotten used to a certain model of popularized knowledge: a clear thesis, summarized on the back of the book, and a chapter by chapter marshalling of evidence in support.

    Army of None is from a different school, and frustrating if you ask that of it. Rather than a single argument, it is structured as a thematic literature survey, exploring topics as diverse as the targeting systems of Aegis Combat system equipped submarines, cyber warfare, and philosophy of the rules of armed engagement. This isn't a book well-suited for the casually curious; to the reader's cost, the driest material comes first, reviewing what is known of the US and other countries current semi-automated systems in what is probably excessive detail. The further one gets into the book, however, the more it broadens and starts treating the questions that probably matter more to most potential readers. What rules should or could be applied to an automated weapon system? How can humans be kept in or on the loop of combat decision-making? What bans on weapons have held historically, and why?

    Sharre's choice to build so much of his book around interviews with experts can come across as a lack of confidence in his own thesis, but may reflect his years of service in both policy and on the front with the US military, crafting cautious and well-founded argument. When his perspective on the best path forward reveals itself late in the books, it is something of a last concept standing. Through process of elimination of possibilities we've explored in detail with him and found in one way or another wanting, some possibilities stand out as worth exploring, while other common perspectives in the media no longer hold up.

    Firmly recommended to people looking for an expert guide thinking through the issues around the arrival of automated force; but don't make the mistake of picking this up to fill your popularized science reading slot. It will ask more from you than that.

  • Jay Pruitt

    Does it concern you that in the near future we'll all be dependent upon driverless cars to get around? Trust me, that's nothing!

    This book,

    , was a real eye-opener for me. We're living in a world where warfare will soon be waged at the push of a button. "Autonomous" weapons systems, designed and programmed by imperfect humans, will be able to indepe

    Does it concern you that in the near future we'll all be dependent upon driverless cars to get around? Trust me, that's nothing!

    This book,

    , was a real eye-opener for me. We're living in a world where warfare will soon be waged at the push of a button. "Autonomous" weapons systems, designed and programmed by imperfect humans, will be able to independently take military actions (i.e., detecting and identifying enemy combatants, developing target solutions, estimating

    damage, and deciding whether or not to engage their weapons). This book introduces us to what is not only the future, but what has already been designed, at least in prototype state.

    Imagine a swarm of drones, a mechanized hunting wolf pack if you will, powerful and stealthy, making decisions without having to check in with a human "boss", able to communicate as a team and make decisions

    , not dependent on a pack leader which could be taken out by the enemy, sufficiently armed to terminate both military and human targets, to take down airplanes, to swarm battlefields and destroy transportation systems, or to sit dormant for years off the ocean floor and wait for ships and submarines to pass by. Worst of all, imagine these AI-directed autonomous systems being created with no built in "off switch."

    Sound like a science fiction novel? Think again. 16 nations have already built or acquired (mainly from China) weaponized drones. A dozen more are working on it. Many of these are definitely not countries you'd think of as friendly allies. Armed robots are also proliferating. South Korea (Samsung) has deployed a robot sentry along its border with North Korea. Israel has sent an armed robotic vehicle on patrol near along the Gaza strip. Russia is building a robotic tank. Even countries such as Singapore and Ecuador now have armed robotic boats to protect their coastline.

    DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the agency who gave us the internet, GPS technology, stealth capability, and advancements in AI, has delivered to the Navy a prototype

    , an unmanned ship which looks like a Klingon Bird of Prey, tasked with hunting enemy subs and ships. Also, Northrup Grumman has delivered an experimental, autonomously operated, unmanned

    fighter aircraft, intended to be launched from aircraft carriers and capable of mid-air refueling.

    And the most frightening autonomous weapon system of all may not even be hardware, but rather software. Of course, we've all heard of viruses and worms infiltrating our computers and multiplying like a cancer. Autonomous "cyberbots" take this dark world of destruction one step further. They are designed to think and operate independently, searching every computer system (personal computers, cellphones, businesses, governments) which is connected directly or indirectly to the internet, looking for security vulnerabilities. In today's world, that could also be simple household "smart" products (which are designed with little attention to cyber security), such as Nest climate controllers, Amazon Echos, cars with GPS systems, house alarms, etc. These cyberbots then autonomously determine whether the vulnerable programs are friendly/allies or unfriendly/foes. If friendly, the bots can be designed to repair the vulnerability on the spot (defensive) and/or hide themselves within the enemy program and wait for the most ideal time to wreak havoc (offensive). And they are designed to cover their tracks so that, while infected, everything continues to appear normal to the program user. Even though important computer networks are often designed to be protected with an air gap (no direct connection to the internet), cyberbots can find other ways to infiltrate, such as spreading via USB drives and sticks.

    While cyberwarfare is a major concern (imagine what would happen if the Air Traffic Controller systems were suddenly corrupted), the nightmare scenario is when cyberbots somehow infiltrate, corrupt and/or "turn" the neural programming of our sophisticated weaponry, changing let's say a friendly fighter-robot into an unfriendly one. Can you say

    ?

    While this book was definitely an education for me, well over half of the book was not about autonomous systems, per se, but about the moral implications of their use. This could have been covered in one or two chapters, not twenty.

  • Michael F

    Autonomous weapons (i.e. killer robots) are one of the many incredible and terrifying technologies coming to our world whether we're ready for them or not.

    is a thorough survey of the development of autonomy in weapons technology, its potential application in the future, and the advantages and disadvantages of autonomous and semi-autonomous systems. It explains technical details well for one with no particular knowledge of the subject. The book focuses particularly on the moral and ethi

    Autonomous weapons (i.e. killer robots) are one of the many incredible and terrifying technologies coming to our world whether we're ready for them or not.

    is a thorough survey of the development of autonomy in weapons technology, its potential application in the future, and the advantages and disadvantages of autonomous and semi-autonomous systems. It explains technical details well for one with no particular knowledge of the subject. The book focuses particularly on the moral and ethical issues created by fully autonomous weapons. It presents both sides of the argument fairly well, though it is somewhat skewed against autonomy. Oddly, it does not spend much time on the simple point that autonomous weapons could keep more of one's own human soldiers out of harm's way, which I would have thought to be one of the primary advantages.

    The book's primary flaw is a redundant style; I think a good editor could have reduced the length of the book by at least a third without removing anything substantive. I'd still recommend the book to those interested in the subject matter.

  • Luis Lopez

    I could not finish this book despite my interest in technology. As an engineer who is fascinated by artificial intelligence and machine learning, I was very eager to read this book and learn more from what experts are thinking and doing with AI. Though I did learn a few cool things, there was lots of repetition. I believe the author meant to write an informative and interesting book but as a reader it was not enough to keep me engaged.

  • Ietrio

    Short version: a toxic book coming from a fear monger with a governmental expansion agenda.

    Long version:

    I am very interested in the subject. And, as with bioethics, the perspective is very dark. Most, if not all, asking for "moderation", "control" or anything in between are simply primitivists scared out of their wits of what technology might bring.

    In this particular case, Scharre is a Luddite. His understanding of the subject is shallow at best, although the

    Short version: a toxic book coming from a fear monger with a governmental expansion agenda.

    Long version:

    I am very interested in the subject. And, as with bioethics, the perspective is very dark. Most, if not all, asking for "moderation", "control" or anything in between are simply primitivists scared out of their wits of what technology might bring.

    In this particular case, Scharre is a Luddite. His understanding of the subject is shallow at best, although the surface covered is large indeed. From the first pages he starts with an anecdote about the wonderful angel of the Soviet rocket command that saved the World from Nuclear Holocaust. He continues with another anecdote in which he puts himself (?) as a participant in such a saving action. Well. How about Mai Lai Massacre? And that is the one that got to the public. How about the other massacres that did not have a whistle-blower? How about the ones in which the whistle-blower lost? Why would anyone believe the first story coming from a country that specialized in low blows and deception? The point is simply humans are way way below the angelic nature Scharre's superstitious mind can grasp.

    My second point might appear as making instead angels from the machines. No. The machine, at least for now, will do what the human will ask it to do. So NO machine can be ANY better than the human programming it. The decisions can be far more clear. Or the programming can simply be buggy.

    I got to this book though Bill Gates' recommended books. And I get it. To grossly paraphrase Peter Thiel, betting on Microsoft simply means betting against progress. And that seems to be Gates' mindset.

    I have nothing against argument. Even an emotional argument like Scharre's, devoid of reason. What I point out, is also pointed out by Scharre: many groups are pushing for this sort of weapons. ANY restriction would push what Jello Biafra wonderfully put "If Evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve". Paul Scharre is true to his own agenda. He is a fear monger, a bureaucrat who wants a total control of the state, damn the rest. And that is what makes this book toxic. Because his gang might win based on this sort of emotional cries.

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