WASHINGTON ― Rapid advances in artificial intelligence and military robotics have some concerned that the development of Terminator-like killer robots will be humankind’s downfall. But that doesn’t seem to worry Eric Schmidt, the former executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet, who addressed the impact of technology on democracy at the Feb. 16-18 Munich Security Conference.

“Everyone immediately then wants to talk about all the movie-inspired death scenarios, and I can confidently predict to you that they are one to two decades away. So let’s worry about them, but let’s worry about them in a while,“ Schmidt said.

For Schmidt, the benefits AI brings to health care and energy outweigh concerns of an apocalyptic robot takeover. When pressed a second time about the ability of creators to stay in control of technology designed to far surpass human intelligence, he again dismissed concerns.

“You’ve been watching too many movies. Let me be clear: Humans will remain in charge of [AI] for the rest of time,” he asserted.

“The other point that I want to remind everyone, these technologies [AI] have serious errors in them, and they should not be used with life-critical decisions. So I would not want to be in an airplane where the computer was making all the general intelligence decisions about flying it. The technology is just not reliable enough ― there too many errors in its use. It is advisory, it makes you smarter and so forth, but I wouldn’t put it in charge of command and control.”

Advances in AI overseas have caught the attention of U.S. officials.

For example, China is pushing full-steam ahead with its whole-of-nation AI program, and the country plans to become the worlds leader in the field by 2030.

“It’s a national program. As I understand, what that means in China is that there will be hundreds of thousands of engineers produced and trained in this. There is no analogous United States or European doctrine, and we need to have one,” Schmidt noted.

Deputy Secretary General of NATO Rose Gottemoeller, who also spoke at the conference, noted concern among alliance members about such 21st century threats.

“There is a worry now, in NATO and among all member states, that we’re seeing new technology rapidly advancing in areas like artificial intelligence, cyber. There are new frontiers of technology that we have to keep a sharp eye on. We have to understand how they can emerge into the defense sphere ― either as threats or as useful military technology,’ Gottemoeller said.

When asked if NATO should establish its own advanced research program ― an institution that mimics the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency ― Gotemoller supported the suggestion. “I think in general it’s a good idea, but I base that on my admiration of the history and the benefits that [DARPA] has had for the U.S.,” she said.

Daniel Cebul is an editorial fellow and general assignments writer for Defense News, C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain and Federal Times.

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