In a detailed 28-page report published five years ago, a US think tank weighed up a frankly terrifying prospect: that advancements in AI could lead to a nuclear war by 2040. In a series of workshops forming the research, experts told the Rand Corporation that an increased reliance on the technology “could lead to new types of catastrophic mistakes”. Last year, a survey of artificial intelligence researchers around the world revealed that one third agreed that AI decisions could cause a disaster as bad as “all-out nuclear war” in this century. The concept of robots and warfare isn’t new. The US has been deploying armed drones since 2001, and the lethal impact of that technology is witnessed on a regular basis in the war in Ukraine. The rise of other weapons which don’t require human input has also raised serious ethical concerns. But is there a way to make sure of “a form of strategic stability” that would eliminate or decrease the risks of a potential armageddon? The UK, US and France appear to be trying to do just that. We’ll take a look at what is going on, after the headlines.
Today’s news, and why it matters
Jeremy Hunt believes tax cuts this year remain unlikely because they could make it harder to control inflation after the Bank of England voted to raise interest rates again. Another minister told i that Rishi Sunak “needs rates to come down” in the next year in order to convince voters that the economy is going in the right direction.
Hundreds of thousands of “mortgage prisoners” are facing rates of more than 8 per cent, an increase of hundreds of pounds a year, after the Bank of England raised interest rates for the 11th consecutive time. An estimated 195,000 homeowners are trapped paying sky-high rates as they cannot remortgage, according to the Financial Conduct Authority, but campaigners say the true figure is far higher.
Dozens of patients and families whose lives have been damaged by extremely rare reactions to the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine have launched legal action against the pharmaceutical company. While the vaccine is widely credited with protecting many millions of people from the virus, 81 patients died and 364 suffered severe reactions. Lawyers representing the group say case is not about finding fault “but about the reasonable expectation of safety”.
Transgender women athletes will be banned from competing in elite female events if they have gone through male puberty, the sport’s governing body has announced. World Athletics also voted to tighten restrictions on athletes with differences in sex development, cutting the maximum permitted level of plasma testosterone for athletes in half – from five nanomoles per litre to 2.5.
A Labour government would cut violence against women in half within a decade and protect children by reducing knife crime, Sir Keir Starmer has said. Speaking in the wake of the damning Casey Review into the Metropolitan Police, the Labour leader said “modernising” policing and “defeating misogyny” were crucial in cutting crimes against women and girls, but he didn’t want to disband the Met because he did not believe a “heads-must roll” policy would be the most effective way of reform.
AI and nuclear weapons, three key things:
Some background: The rise of lethal autonomous weapons – that is those that use AI to make decisions rather than humans – have been the discussion of various international peace conferences for nearly a decade. In an article last year, academic Peter Lee described a handful of emerging weapons, including robot dogs with mounted machine guns and four different types of autonomous drones, which can identify and kill people, all without input from a human operator. One of these has reportedly already been used in Libya. He writes: “China, Russia, India and the USA have developed weapons to destroy satellites which provide global positioning for car sat-nav systems and civilian aircraft guidance. The real nightmare scenario is combining these, and many more, weapon systems with artificial intelligence.”
In its research, the Rand Corporation said: “Both Russia and China appear to believe that the United States
is attempting to leverage AI to threaten the survivability of their strategic nuclear forces, stoking mutual distrust that could prove catastrophic in a crisis.” The paper also argued that the use of AI in serious military decisions could lead to a breakdown in assurances of geopolitical stability when it comes to nuclear threats. Other experts flag problems with the technology itself. One leading academic at Cambridge University told i the new technology could, in an extreme case, mistake a bird as an incoming threat and trigger a nuclear launch if no human override is in place to assess alerts from an AI-assisted early-warning system. And Professor Michael Osborne at the University of Oxford told i: “The realistic concern is that AI could be used in some sort of early warning system, the detection of incoming attacks. Given the many failure modes of existing AI, it’s not too hard to imagine that false warnings could be provided that might lead to really harmful escalation.”
What’s happening now: Last month in The Hague, the US state department’s under secretary for arms control, Bonnie Jenkins, presented 12 non-legally binding norms to govern military uses of AI, including that humans should always control any launch of nuclear weapons. She said: “We have an obligation to create strong norms of responsible behaviour concerning military uses of AI”. Now, the UK, US and France have lodged a paper at the United Nations warning of the risks of relying on AI to detect nuclear threats, and using the technology in launch protocols without human involvement, David Parsley reports. He writes: “The paper is the first step in seeking an international consensus on how AI can be used in defence that could lead to a new nuclear weapons treaty.” The paper states: “Consistent with long-standing policy, we [UK, US and France] will maintain human control and involvement for all actions critical to informing and executing sovereign decisions concerning nuclear weapons employment. We are ready to work with all relevant stakeholders towards the creation and enhancement of secure communication channels among the capitals of the nuclear-weapon states.” It is understood that diplomatic moves are already being made to bring other nuclear powers China, India, North Korea, Russia, Pakistan, and Israel on board with the strategy that only humans can control to launch of a missile. You can read his full report here.
Around the world
Bordeaux town hall was set on fire as protests against President Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age continued across France on Thursday. Footage showed what appeared to be the front door of Bordeaux town hall engulfed in flames, though firefighters quickly put out the blaze. The protests could derail a planned trip from King Charles, who is scheduled to make an opulent state visit in Versailles on Sunday.
Hundreds of thousands of North Korean women and girls are being trafficked in China’s “Red Zone” border region as they flee repression in their home country, in what has been described as the “real-life Handmaid’s Tale”. The defectors face systematic rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage, pregnancy, forced labour and cybersex trafficking in the dangerous “Red Zone”, according to a report by international human rights organisations.
The US has carried out airstrikes on an Iran-backed group in Syria, after an American contractor was killed in an attack at a coalition base. US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, said US Central Command forces retaliated against the attack with “precision airstrikes” against facilities in eastern Syria used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
Fake pictures of Donald Trump being arrested, generated by artificial intelligence, have circulated widely online. Eliot Higgins, founder of the investigative group Bellingcat, who created and tweeted out the images said: “I had assumed that people would realise Donald Trump has two legs, not three, but that appears not to have stopped some people passing them off as genuine, which highlights that lack of critical thinking skills in our educational system.”
Watch out for…
Rishi Sunak’s Brexit deal for Northern Ireland, which will be formally signed off on Friday at an official meeting in London.
Thoughts for the day
Our leaders deny ‘institutional’ discrimination because the alternative terrifies them. To accept it, would mean having to condemn, destroy and rebuild the foundations of what makes them powerful in the first place, says Kuba Shande-Baptiste.
Why the Bank of England was wrong to raise interest rates. It is some consolation that the rises were 0.25 rather than 0.5 as originally expected, writes Nicola Horlick.
Contraception can make women sick, yet no one seems to care, argues Vicky Spratt.
Quinta Brunson’s Abbott Elementary made America laugh. She’s still working on her mother. The writer and star talks to Emily Baker about supporting teachers, the original Ms Abbott, and making ‘nice’ TV.
The Big Read
The machine guns, a home secretary and the startling new claims about one of the UK’s biggest criminal scams. Public knowledge of a plot that convinced Michael Howard to release two gangsters in 1996 was suppressed after a third drug dealer attempted the same trick, a retired detective claims.
Lyndon Arthur: ‘Anthony Yarde was just an off night – I fully believe I’m the better boxer’. The British light-heavyweight discusses defeat to Yarde, the death of his younger brother and future big fights as he prepares to take on Braian Nahuel Suarez for the IBO belt this Saturday.
Something to brighten your day
If you’re an early riser who also happens to own a good pair of binoculars, and, ideally, live well outside a city, you could get a good glimpse of the Milky Way this week. The best time is after about 3am, when the skies are still dark. Don Pollacco, professor of physics at the University of Warwick, said: “From our position in the disc, if we look in any direction the rest of the disc looks like a band in the sky – this is the Milky Way. If you look with binoculars the band is full of faint stars.”