Jun 1, 2019

Automated war

A mural in Sana’a, Yemen protesting against U.S. drone strikes. Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images

A new era where weapons of war are becoming more intelligent and more enabled by data — such as unmanned ships, submarines or drones — raises complex challenges for national and global security.

Threat level: If technology is allowed "to start making big decisions on its own ... we might be doomed by technological advances," David Petraeus, former CIA director and retired four-star general, tells "Axios on HBO."

Driving the news: Experts are grappling with the ethics of developing autonomous weapons, which suggest the possibility of a computer deciding on its own to take human life.

  • UN Secretary-General António Guterres has urged AI experts to ban autonomous weapons, calling them “morally repugnant.”
  • Drones — low profile and easily preprogrammed with GPS routes — are just the beginning of warfare with AI. Recently, a drone blast killed several people in Yemen, including the Yemeni government's head of military intelligence.

Fully autonomous weapons don't exist today, but Petraeus warns even a world of semi-autonomous weapons could create a frightening future for humankind.

  • "All of this is advancing so rapidly that it’s literally difficult to keep up with it intellectually conceptually."

Our thought bubble, per Axios AI reporter Kaveh Waddell: The big challenge now is to slow the world’s slide toward an automated weapons race fueled by mutual distrust and a lack of information.

  • As international efforts to ban autonomous weapons stall — in part thanks to the U.S. — look for the Pentagon to update its policies on automation late this year.

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Stocks fall 4% as sell-off worsens

A trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images

Stocks fell more than 4% on Thursday, extending the market’s worst week since the financial crisis in 2008 following a spike in coronavirus cases around the world.

The big picture: All three indices closed in correction territory on Thursday, down over 10% from their recent record-highs amid a global market rout.

Coronavirus updates: California monitors 8,400 potential cases

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

33 people in California have tested positive for the coronavirus, and health officials are monitoring 8,400 people who have recently returned from "points of concern," Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has killed more than 2,800 people and infected over 82,000 others in some 50 countries and territories. The novel coronavirus is now affecting every continent but Antarctica, and the WHO said Wednesday the number of new cases reported outside China has exceeded those inside the country for the first time.

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Watchdog opens probe into VA secretary over handling of sexual assault claim

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on Fox Business Network’s "The Evening Edit" on Jan. 7. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

The Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General Michael Missal said Thursday he had opened an investigation into VA Secretary Robert Wilkie after lawmakers demanded an inquiry into his handling of a sexual misconduct report, the Washington Post reports.

Context: Wilkie allegedly "worked to discredit" the credibility of Democratic aide and veteran Andrea Goldstein after she reported last fall "that a man groped and propositioned her in the main lobby of the agency's D.C. Medical Center," a senior VA official told the Post.