The United States has urged the governments of both Russia and China to mirror a notable pledge about artificial intelligence (AI) and nuclear weapons.

Reuters reported that a senior US official on Thursday urged China and Russia to match declarations by the United States, the UK and France that only humans, and never artificial intelligence, will make decisions on deploying nuclear weapons.

It comes amid ongoing concern about the impact of AI and autonomous weapons. In February an open letter from a non governmental group called ‘The Elders’ (made up of notable public figures) urged world leaders to address existential risks of artificial intelligence and climate change.

HMS Trafalgar Submarine. Decommissioned in 2009.
Image credit Unknown

No Skynet

Now according to the Reuters report, the US State Department arms control official Paul Dean has told an online briefing that Washington had made a “clear and strong commitment” that humans had total control over nuclear weapons, adding that France and Britain had done the same.

“We would welcome a similar statement by China and the Russian Federation,” Dean, principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Arms Control, Deterrence and Stability was quoted as saying.

“We think it is an extremely important norm of responsible behaviour and we think it is something that would be very welcome in a P5 context,” he reportedly, referring to the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the US, UK, France, Russia and China).

Reuters noted that Dean’s remarks come as the Biden administration seeks to deepen separate discussions with China over both nuclear weapons policy and the growth of artificial intelligence.

The Chinese defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Reuters reported.

US talks

The spread of artificial intelligence technology reportedly surfaced during sweeping talks between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on 26 April.

The two sides agreed to hold their first bilateral talks on artificial intelligence in the coming weeks, Blinken reportedly stated, adding that they would share views on how best to manage risks and safety surrounding the technology.

As part of normalising military communications, US and Chinese officials resumed nuclear weapons discussions in January, but formal arms control negotiations are not expected any time soon.

China is said to be expanding its nuclear weapons capabilities, but in February urged that the largest nuclear powers should first negotiate a no-first-use treaty between each other.

Meanwhile the world is an increasingly dangerous place, amid ongoing geopolitical tensions over Ukraine and national security matters.

In 2021 the UK Integrated Defence Review for example included subtle change about when Britain may use nuclear weapons if attacked by ’emerging technologies’.

The Review indicated that the UK reserves nuclear strike response for ‘emerging technologies’ attacks.

AI worries

There have been a number of warnings about the dangers of AI before.

An open letter in March 2023 saw a group of artificial intelligence (AI) experts and executives band together to urge a six month pause in developing more advanced systems.

That letter had been signed by Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple; Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, Tesla and Twitter; researchers at DeepMind; AI heavyweight Yoshua Bengio (often referred to as one of the “godfathers of AI”); and Professor Stuart Russell, a pioneer of research in the field.

Both Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak, and others including the late Professor Stephen Hawking had previously warned about the dangers of AI.

Indeed Professor Hawking previously warned AI could spell the end of life as we know it on planet earth.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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