AI, Drone Swarming, and Escalation Risks in Future Warfare

April 29, 2020

James Johnson

The rapid proliferation of a new generation of artificial intelligence (AI)-augmented and -enabled autonomous weapon systems (AWS), most notably drones used in swarming tactics, could have a significant impact on deterrence, nuclear security, escalation, and strategic stability in future warfare.

In a study published in the RUSI Journal, James Johnson argues that emerging iterations of AWS fused with AI systems will presage a powerful interplay of increased range, accuracy, mass, coordination, intelligence, and speed in a future conflict. In turn, the risk of escalatory use-them-or-lose-them situations between nuclear-armed military powers and the attendant dangers posed by the use of unreliable, unverified, and unsafe AWS will increase, with potentially catastrophic strategic outcomes.

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James Johnson is a postdoctoral research fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Monterey. James holds a PhD in Politics and International Relations from the University of Leicester, where he is also an honorary visiting fellow with the School of History & International Relations. He is the author of The US-China Military & Defense Relationship During the Obama Presidency (New York, NY: Palgrave, 2019).

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