Opinion | Why artificial intelligence is now a primary concern for Henry Kissinger


Henry Kissinger spent most of his career pondering the dangers of nuclear weapons. But at the age of 99, the former secretary of state said he had become “obsessed” with a very recent concern — how to limit the potentially destructive capabilities of artificial intelligence, whose power could be more destructive than even the largest bomb.

Kissinger described artificial intelligence as the new frontier of arms control during a forum at the National Cathedral in Washington on November 16. If the major powers don’t find ways to limit the AI’s reach, “It’s simply a mad race for some disaster,” he said.

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The warning from Kissinger, one of the world’s foremost statesmen and strategists, is a sign of growing global concern about the power of “thinking machines” as they interact with business, finance, and global war. He spoke by video connection at the cathedral forum entitled “Man, Machine, and God,” which was the theme this year at the annual Nancy and Paul Ignatius Program, named in my father’s honor.

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Kissinger’s concerns about artificial intelligence were echoed by two of the committee’s members: Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google and chairman of the Congress-appointed National Security Committee on Artificial Intelligence, which released its report last year. and Ann Neuberger, the Biden administration’s deputy national security advisor for electronic and emerging technology.

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The former Secretary of State warned that AI systems could transform war just like chess or other strategy games – because they are capable of making moves that no human would think of but which have disastrous consequences. “What I’m talking about,” Kissinger said, “is that by exploring legitimate questions that we ask them, they come to conclusions that will not necessarily be the same as what we are – and we have to live in their world.”

He continued, “We are surrounded by many machines whose true thinking we may not know.” “How do you put constraints in the machines? Even today we have fighter planes that can fight… air battles without any human involvement. But these are just the beginnings of this process. It’s the detail 50 years down the road that would be mind-boggling.”

Kissinger urged the leaders of the United States and China, the world’s tech giants, to begin an urgent dialogue on how to apply ethical limits and standards to artificial intelligence.

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Such a conversation might start, he said, with President Biden telling Chinese President Xi Jinping: “We have a lot of problems to discuss, but there is one dominant problem — that you and I uniquely in history can destroy the world with our decisions.” [AI-driven warfare], And it is impossible to achieve a unilateral advantage in it. Therefore, we must start with the first principle that we will not fight a high-tech war against each other.”

Kissinger suggested that American and Chinese leaders might begin a high-tech security dialogue, with an agreement to “create relatively small institutions at first whose mission is to inform [national leaders] about the risks, which may be in connection with each other about how to mitigate the “risks.” China has long resisted nuclear arms control negotiations of the kind Kissinger conducted with the Soviet Union during his years as national security adviser and secretary of state.

American officials say the Chinese will not discuss nuclear arms control until they achieve parity with the United States and Russia, whose arms have been constrained by a series of agreements starting with the 1972 SALT Treaty, which Kissinger negotiated.

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The world-changing power of artificial intelligence became a major concern of Kissinger in his late 90s, and Schmidt was his mentor. The two co-authored a book last year with MIT professor Daniel Huttenlocher called “The Age of Artificial Intelligence: Our Human Future,” which described the opportunities and risks of the new technology.

Kissinger’s first major public comment on AI was a 2018 article in The Atlantic titled “How the Enlightenment Ends.” The article’s subtitle summed up its chilling message: “Philosophically and intellectually – in every way – human society is unprepared for the advent of artificial intelligence.”

Kissinger told the cathedral audience that despite the devastation caused by nuclear weapons, “They don’t have this [AI] The ability to initiate themselves on the basis of their perception, their own perception, of risk or choice of targets.”

When asked if he was optimistic about humanity’s ability to limit the destructive capabilities of artificial intelligence when applied to war, Kissinger replied: “I retain my optimism in the sense that if we don’t solve it, it will literally destroy us. … We have no choice.”


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