batten down the hatches said Skynet’s gran-pappy… there’s a war on you know…
On today’s episode of Skynet is Here… we have a long article from ArsTechnica on a Soviet software program that was overly trusted by the Soviet bureaucracy and almost led to one of those pesky nuclear wars…
“Let’s play Global Thermonuclear War.”
Thirty-two years ago, just months after the release of the movie WarGames, the world came the closest it ever has to nuclear Armageddon. In the movie version of a global near-death experience, a teenage hacker messing around with an artificial intelligence program that just happened to control the American nuclear missile force unleashes chaos. In reality, a very different computer program run by the Soviets fed growing paranoia about the intentions of the United States, very nearly triggering a nuclear war.
The software in question was a KGB computer model constructed as part of Operation RYAN (РЯН), details of which were obtained from Oleg Gordievsky, the KGB’s London section chief who was at the same time spying for Britain’s MI6. Named for an acronym for “Nuclear Missile Attack” (Ракетное Ядерное Нападение), RYAN was an intelligence operation started in 1981 to help the intelligence agency forecast if the US and its allies were planning a nuclear strike. The KGB believed that by analyzing quantitative data from intelligence on US and NATO activities relative to the Soviet Union, they could predict when a sneak attack was most likely.
As it turned out, Exercise Able Archer ’83 triggered that forecast.
So it turns out that the great-grandfather of Skynet… was a computer program called RYAN.
But RYAN, unlike his wayward relation Skynet, was not malicious.
And unlike Skynet, RYAN had no self-awareness… it was merely a program. A ghost of things to come. RYAN relied on physical intelligence agents to fill out reports and send them back to the USSR to be entered into it’s now simplistic computers. After all the *hmmmm* and *brrr beep beep* of its computers… it gave out a numerical score indicating the relative military abilities of the USSR vs the USA.
Skynet on the other hand was a demonic little shit of a self-aware AI program that was initially used by the military to gain an advantage over rivals by eliminating human actors from control. No humans required, no collating data, just an AI lets loose on the world of machines.
So you can see that they’re basically just two dots on the same timeline. Skynet is in a sense just an advanced implementation of RYAN.
So… the RYAN case should illustrate to you the extreme dangers of putting Artificial Intelligence into military hardware.
And if RYAN, what can now be considered a simple program, could cause an entire government to seriously believe they were about to be attacked… then just imagine what happens when an AI is introduced into military networks or is allowed to gather intelligence through things like UAV’s.
It really is easy to see how we could nurture the same dependence on AI enabled hardware that the Soviets did on the RYAN program… a lot of people already think of computers as sort of magical boxes that can do anything. If our collective understanding of how relatively simple hardware works is poor… how can you expect society to understand the limits, the drawbacks, and the dangers of Artificial Intelligence?
They’ll simply do whatever the AI says, they’ll blindly trust, they will allow AI to control their behavior just like RYAN controlled the Soviets behavior. It’s all very disturbing and lends serious credence to the relative ease at which Skynet destroyed humanity in The Terminator series.
It’s kind of scary isn’t it?
And while the Defense Department is currently publicly stating that they won’t be putting
Skynet Artificial Intelligence into its killy machines… they also simultaneously plan on introducing AI into things like network security, and radios, and in unmanned aerial vehicles that can defeat human pilots.
This has been just another case of Skynet peeking its little demonic head out into the real world… in other words, Skynet is Here.