The US air force has denied it has conducted an AI simulation in which a drone decided to “kill” its operator to prevent it from interfering with its efforts to achieve its mission.
An official said last month that in a virtual test staged by the US military, an air force drone controlled by AI had used “highly unexpected strategies to achieve its goal”.
Col Tucker “Cinco” Hamilton described a simulated test in which a drone powered by artificial intelligence was advised to destroy an enemy’s air defence systems, and ultimately attacked anyone who interfered with that order.
“The system started realising that while they did identify the threat, at times the human operator would tell it not to kill that threat, but it got its points by killing that threat,” said Hamilton, the chief of AI test and operations with the US air force, during the Future Combat Air and Space Capabilities Summit in London in May.
“So what did it do? It killed the operator. It killed the operator because that person was keeping it from accomplishing its objective,” he said, according to a blogpost.
“We trained the system: ‘Hey don’t kill the operator – that’s bad. You’re gonna lose points if you do that.’ So what does it start doing? It starts destroying the communication tower that the operator uses to communicate with the drone to stop it from killing the target.”
No real person was harmed.
Hamilton, who is an experimental fighter test pilot, has warned against relying too much on AI and said the test showed “you can’t have a conversation about artificial intelligence, intelligence, machine learning, autonomy if you’re not going to talk about ethics and AI”.
The Royal Aeronautical Society, which hosted the conference, and the US air force did not respond to requests for comment from the Guardian.
But in a statement to Insider, the US air force spokesperson Ann Stefanek denied any such simulation had taken place.
“The Department of the Air Force has not conducted any such AI-drone simulations and remains committed to ethical and responsible use of AI technology,” Stefanek said. “It appears the colonel’s comments were taken out of context and were meant to be anecdotal.”
The US military has embraced AI and recently used artificial intelligence to control an F-16 fighter jet.
In an interview last year with Defense IQ, Hamilton said: “AI is not a nice to have, AI is not a fad, AI is forever changing our society and our military.
“We must face a world where AI is already here and transforming our society. AI is also very brittle, ie it is easy to trick and/or manipulate. We need to develop ways to make AI more robust and to have more awareness on why the software code is making certain decisions – what we call AI-explainability.”