David Ignatius’s Aug. 8 op-ed, “A Sputnik moment for our military,” argued that artificial intelligence advances of potential adversaries could overwhelm the United States’ “expensive, manned, hard-to-replace systems” such as aircraft carriers and other “legacy systems.” Russia’s launch of Sputnik in 1957 shocked the Eisenhower administration into action to close what turned out to be a nonexistent space and missile gap.
For the past 17 years, U.S. forces have not faced competitors with advanced armies, navies and air forces, giving the impression of immaculate or low-cost war. That is nonsense. War is far more deadly, as we learned in Korea and Vietnam.
A more useful parallel with AI might be the introduction of nuclear and then thermonuclear weapons capable of destroying society. Could AI simply strengthen deterrence, as did thermonuclear weapons by making war too costly?
The greatest uncertainty posed by AI is that it could render obsolete Moore’s Law, which asserts that computer capacity doubles every 18 to 24 months. AI could reduce this to weeks or even days with extraordinary effect on society from genetics to medicine to materials to ushering in new forms of physics, conceivably affecting every human on the planet.
Artificial intelligence is far more than a Sputnik moment and a so-called missile gap that did not exist. AI could be equivalent to a “big bang” moment that truly transforms society, not just wars.
Harlan Ullman, Washington
The writer is senior adviser at the Atlantic Council and a distinguished senior fellow
at the U.S. Naval War College.