The role of artificial intelligence in conflict prevention: Will it polarize or unite?

13 Nov 2017 01:00h

Event report

This session addressed the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in conflict resolution, and considered its positive and negative effects on society.

Providing a technical perspective, Mr Marc-Oliver Gewaltig, co-director of Neurorobotics at the Human Brain Project, emphasised: ‘Don’t believe everything you hear about artificial intelligence’. According to Gewaltig, it is important to think about what intelligence means, and to consider that not everything that appears intelligent actually is intelligent. The capabilities of today’s AI systems are still very narrow, even though people mistake them for being intelligent. Although AI systems are able to tackle well-defined problems for which information is generally available, difficulty arises when they have to deal with ‘noisy, vaguely defined problems’, such as social contexts. Therefore, AI systems are far from able to deal with the human, emotional, social, and economical aspects of decision-making.

Relating AI to global security, Mr Jean Marc Rickli, global risk and resilience cluster leader at the Leadership, Crisis and Conflict Management Programme of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), pointed at today’s exponential technical growth. Although he agreed that there is a lot of hype around AI, there are important consequences related to the deployment of AI technologies, such as the robotisation of the workforce and the risks related to autonomous weapons systems. He concluded that although success in the creation of AI ‘could be the biggest event in the history of civilisation’, there is an urgent need for education on the impact of AI, and for the improved governance of dual-use technologies.

The remainder of the session took the form of a debate between participants, on whether society will gain from AI or lose from it. Those who were convinced of AI’s positive aspects argued that it will help us better understand the complexity of today’s world, drive sustainable development, and remove language barriers. Those who were less optimistic about AI’s positive impact pointed at surveillance, the dehumanisation of war, and the lack of regulations and checks on these systems.