Mahboobin, 10: 00-11: 50

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Davis Herchko (

“Everything that civilization has to offer is a product of human intelligence; we cannot predict what we might achieve when this intelligence is magnified by the tools that AI may provide, but the eradication of war, disease, and poverty would be high on anyone's list. Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last” [1]. Stephen Hawking is known worldwide for his outstanding accomplishments in the fields of physics, cosmology, and computation. From proving black holes and theorizing the existence of the universe, his knowledge on quantum physics is unquestionably immense. This understanding of the quantum realm has helped humanity innovate and create an innumerable amount of technology, especially quantum computers. Current quantum computers are only able to focus on mathematical calculations, but the more sophisticated quantum computers of the future are expected to achieve remarkable things.

A modern digital computer owes its functionality to the microprocessor, which is comprised of billions of transistors. Each transistor has the ability to either switch on or off, with on translating in binary code to 1, and off to 0. Current microprocessors are continually getting smaller yet more powerful with each commercial release, but their abilities appear meek when compared to the capabilities of a quantum computer. Instead of using transistors to calculate information, a quantum computer is able to use manipulated particles called qubits. Qubits are different from transistors in that they can be “0” and “1” at the same time as a result of the Law of Superposition, and the Law of Entanglement allows for qubits to connect to one another in a continuous chain. These laws intertwine to allow qubits to attain parallel processing. This type of computation is leaps above current technology. For example, a quantum computer with just 30 qubits is more powerful than the world’s most powerful supercomputer, and a 300 qubit quantum computer would be more powerful than every computer in the world connected together [2]. This power will be extremely useful for countless endeavors in the future, the main one being true human-level artificial intelligence. Researchers have attempted to create a human-like AI on contemporary computers in the past, but there isn’t enough processing power to recreate and simulate such complex thought and emotion. Conversely, quantum computers have all the storage an artificial intelligence software could ever need.

Coming to Fruition
The concept of artificial intelligence has been discussed for thousands of years going back to Greek times, but the
mechanical/computer AI most people are familiar with has only been sought after for the past few decades. The computer science community had predicted that we would be able to achieve artificial intelligence around this time in history. Even though items such as Apple’s Siri and IBM’s Watson have been created, these intelligent applications aren’t considered “true” artificial intelligence. True artificial intelligence, or strong AI, is the approach to “develop artificial intelligence to the point where the machine’s intellectual capability is functionally equal to a human’s” [3]. This type of computer creation would completely alter modern life as we know it. Instead of telling a computer known variables in order to solve a complex problem, you simply have to give a computer an issue and it will be able to resolve it on its own knowledge. Humanity would now have a computer and software that could learn from its mistakes and use common sense to make decisions. Global issues ranging from disease, economic fluctuations, aging, sustainability, and cancer could be solved by the super-intellect of a strong AI computer. Although that may seem implausible, scientists and engineers are already on the path to creating this revolutionary technology. Multiple governments have already funneled billions of dollars into research on artificial intelligence with the purpose of solving world issues, but also to control warfare. The inclusion of drones and robotic assistance in combat has already changed the game, but these are still controlled and dependent on humans. However, a strong AI weapon does not have to be under human control; it would be completely autonomous and use its own discretion. This robotic independence would forever alter the ways of battle, and researchers have already deemed it to be “the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms” [4].
Over the past few years, Google Inc. has acquired over twenty robotics and artificial intelligence companies. In addition, they have been assisting the quantum computing company D-Wave Systems with innovating the world’s most advanced quantum computer, which is already processing with over 1000 qubits. As a result of their commitment and interest to these aspects of technology, Google will be at the forefront of artificial intelligence for the next few decades. This new research and development opportunity would certainly interest me after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in computer engineering, so I would be fervent to pursue a job at Google. After over twenty years with the company, I have a senior level computer engineering position at their headquarters in Mountain View, California. My current role is overseeing multiple engineering teams in the creation of the next generation of technology: autonomous artificial intelligence. After decades of studies and research, true human-like artificial intelligence has nearly been created. The US Government and the Department of Defense has kept a close eye on the AI project at Google, and they are now requesting that we collaborate with Lockheed Martin in order to build fully autonomous robots and drones for warfare. Google’s administration board has accepted their terms and has also requested me to complete my project as soon as possible in order to begin work with Lockheed. I am not entirely sure that I am comfortable with speeding up the project and diverting it from its original purpose. I understand that Google will make billions of dollars as a result of this defense contract with the United States, but the short time period I have been instructed to abide by seems a bit too haphazard. It will take more than a year to simply test the artificial intelligence unit by itself to discover if it may have any thought malfunctions, and that’s before even allowing it control mechanical machinery. Also, current semiautonomous military robots and drones still have issues discerning an innocent civilian from a threat, and even though a fully autonomous computer would have more success at eliminating dangers, errors would still be made because of the lack of human awareness. Furthermore, the aspiration for the AI project was to have a self-thinking supercomputer that could assist in solving innumerable global problems and scientific conundrums, not control weaponry and assist in warfare.
The completion of this project would have multiple conflicting consequences. A major positive is the fact that using AI soldiers would drastically decrease the number of killed military personnel, and the number of cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and suicide would drop significantly. Robots and drones are able to carry a much heavier workload than humans, and they do not require a salary, food, or clothing during their military tenure. Even though the AI units would be expensive to build and maintain, they would be cheaper than human soldiers over their lifetime. Moreover, the artificial intelligence would be much more effective at analyzing and utilizing information during defense tactics. While AI provides effective solutions to many problems we face in modern times, there are still numerous drawbacks that cannot be overlooked. A main moral dilemma is who to blame in the event that something does awry with the machine. No humans will be in control of the controls, and the AI would be incapable of taking a moral stand on the issue. As well, the robot would be unable to make a human moral decision when confronted with killing another human, which urges the question if humans have a right to be killed by an autonomous weapon. Another major concern is if using AI would actually increase the amount of conflicts in the world rather than decrease them. The government would no longer have to worry about human life being on the line when deploying troops, causing them to be more prone to making careless decisions when addressing international conflicts. The sheer power that a government possesses with artificial intelligence robots would likely cause many other countries to panic and begin developing technology of their own, much like the nuclear arms race of the twentieth century. This new type of fight for power could start a chain of events that might cause another major global conflict.
The National Society of Professional Engineers has an extensive code of ethics that all engineers should abide by. In regards to this specific scenario, canons #1 and #6 should be closely considered and followed. The first canon states that all engineers shall “hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public” [5]. By assisting in the government in creating AI soldiers, I would be saving an innumerable amount of human life as result of them not going into battle. On the other hand, I would be assisting in the killing of other humans around the world by completing this defense contract and allowing the US government to use an endless amount of robots to complete military operations. The sixth canon demands that engineers shall “conduct themselves honorably, responsibly, ethically, and lawfully so as to enhance the honor, reputation, and usefulness of the profession” [5]. The original goals of my project were certainly in line with this canon, but I’m not comfortable with the altered timeline that I have been given to accomplish by the government. Creating this style of AI still allows me to conduct lawfully, but it would not give me the ability to conduct myself honorably, responsibly, or ethically.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ code of ethics, much like the National Society of Professional Engineers’ code, sets clear guidelines based on the values of humanity and the world. This specific engineering code is helpful to my dilemma because of the significant amount of electrical engineering that would have to be done in order to complete the autonomous artificial intelligence military units. The articles which apply to this scenario state that engineers must agree “to accept responsibility in making decisions consistent with the safety, health, and welfare of the public, and to disclose promptly factors that might endanger the public or the environment” and “to improve the understanding of technology, its appropriate application, and potential consequences” [6]. The future of humanity is in my hands with such a dangerous and costly project. An autonomous warfare system unquestionably has upside, but it is questionable to say those benefits outweigh the risks. It be can be argued that creating this AI will improve public safety and well-being, but I do not believe that the same can be said when years pass and other countries have the same technology because of how overpowered the United States is. I also do not feel as though AI is being used appropriately in armed robots. There are so many other possibilities for artificial intelligence than being programmed as killing machines, all of which do not involve the chance of killing innocent individuals.

In 2007, the South African National Defense Force was experimenting with a brand new semiautonomous military technology named Oerlikon GDF-005. This new piece of equipment was being used as an anti-aircraft weapon, and could automatically lock on to and destroy low-flying aircrafts, helicopters, drones, and cruise missiles by using radar and laser range finders. While being tested on, the anti-aircraft gun suddenly began wildly firing in all directions and ended up unloading all of its two 250-round auto-loader magazines. The apparent computer malfunction ended up killing nine individuals, and wounding another fourteen. After further investigation, it was discovered that a computer failure wasn’t the culprit, but instead an engineering failure at the company Oerlikon. As a result of the hasty creation of the technology, small computer and mechanical errors were accidentally made in production which assisted in causing the horrific events with the defense force [7].

Even though there are positive outcomes from creating autonomous robotic weapons, the potential dangers associated with such a monumental technology would cause me to confidently decline taking on the project. Despite pressure from the executives at Google, as well as the United States Government, I do not want to create an artificial intelligence that doesn’t fully commit to the overall safety of everyone in the world, not just American citizens. My oldest brother is a safety manager for a large airline company, and he stated that “it is reassuring knowing that my job means something and stands for something larger than myself. Peoples’ lives are in my hands, and I need to be sure every single one of them gets from point A to point B, safe and sound. If even one of them is injured or killed, then I am not doing my job correctly” [8]. While I am not an aeronautics safety manager in my scenario, the ethical issues are still the same. As an engineer, I need to ensure safety and security for all individuals, and causing one person harm means I have committed a failure in my occupation. Furthermore, an open letter warning humanity of a “military artificial intelligence arms race” was recently signed by Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, and even famous professor Stephen Hawking [9]. These influential minds have already determined that military AI isn’t the correct course of action, and allowing humanity to create such a weapon could spell the end of civilization. The creation of artificial intelligence is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean its use in warfare has to be.
To All Future Engineers in this Position
It is important to take time away from everything and truly determine how you feel about the situation. After that, an excellent idea is to discuss the circumstance with people that you trust and care about. These individuals have your best interest in mind and can also give feedback from an outsider’s perspective. If you still feel unsure about what to do after this, the best course of action is to simply refrain from continuing the project. Always remember that an engineer should bear in mind the effects that their work can have on humanity, and no amount of money or power should affect their abilities to determine right and wrong. Use the codes of ethics as a guide to achieve great things for not only yourself, but for the world around you.


[1] S. Hawking. (2014, May 22). “Stephen Hawking: Transcendence looks at the implications of artificial intelligence - but are we taking AI seriously?” Independent. (Online article).


[2] H. Bachor. (2015). “Quantum Computing.” Nova. (Online article).

[3] “A Holistic Approach to AI.” (2011). Open Computing Facility at University of California, Berkeley. (Online article).

[4] S. Russell. (2015, May 27). “Take a Stand on AI Weapons.” Nature. (Online article).


[5] “NSPE Code of Ethics for Engineers.” (2015). NSPE. (Online article).

[6] “IEEE Code of Ethics.” (2015). IEEE. (Online article).

[7] N. Shachtman. (2007, October 18). “Robot Cannon Kills 9, Wounds 14.” Wired. (Online article).

[8] D. Herchko (2015). Interview.

[9] S. Gibbs. (2015, July 27). “Musk, Wozniak and Hawking urge ban on warfare AI and autonomous weapons.” The Guardian. (Online article).


M. LaChat. (1986). “Artificial Intelligence and Ethics: An Exercise in the Moral Imagination.” AI Magazine. (Online journal).


“Physical Scientists, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Pugwash.” (2013). Online Ethics Center for Engineering. (Online article).


S. Sloane. (2001). “The Use of Artificial Intelligence by the United States Navy: Case Study of a Failure.” AI Magazine. (Online article).


“Social Scientists and the Human Terrain System Project.” (2013). Online Ethics Center for Engineering. (Online article).


J. Sullins. (2013). “An Ethical Analysis of the Case for Robotic Weapons Arms Control.” NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence. (Online article).


I would like to thank my family and friends for always supporting me and always being there for me whenever I needed any assistance. I would also like to thank my Engineering Analysis Professor, Dr. Arash Mahboobin, and my writing instructor, Keely Bowers, for giving me great feedback on all of my work and writing. Finally, I want to recognize Jordan Walk, Laurel Murray, and my parents for taking the time out of their busy schedules to read and review my paper and provide helpful feedback. Without just one of these individuals, this paper would not have been as well-constructed and thought-provoking as it is. The group of people that I have mentioned have been a tremendous influence on me, and I am more than thankful for everything they have done for me.

University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering


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