A.I. Won’t Transform War. It’ll Only Make Venture Capitalists Richer.

Earlier this month, the techno-optimists of the military-industrial complex convened in downtown Washington, D.C., to plot a brave new world of war. At the AI Expo for National Competitiveness, sponsored by defense firm Palantir (of Peter Thiel fame), developers and policymakers heralded artificial intelligence as not only the inescapable future of international conflict but also the savior of mankind. You see, these A.I.-powered weapons of war, which are already in use, will actually save us from global destruction—and anyone who predicts otherwise is the real warmonger. “The peace activists are war activists,” said Palantir CEO Alex Karp, according to The Guardian. “We are the peace activists.” 

The “peace activists” is Karp’s derogatory term for A.I. skeptics, who, as the technology has proliferated from chatbots to the weapons industry, have become understandably worried about its potentially apocalyptic consequences. Foreign policy experts routinely express fears of robot warsendless wars, and unregulated wars where the ethics and laws of war don’t apply. “The unconstrained development of autonomous weapons could lead to wars that expand beyond human control, with fewer protections for both combatants and civilians,” defense analyst Paul Scharre wrote in Foreign Affairs earlier this year. 

These dual perspectives—the faith in A.I. to liberate humans from the battlefield and the fear of a doomsday scenario—have created a lucrative environment for venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, including Palantir. They’re winning significant defense contracts based not only on their rosy promises of a war without human casualties but also on the government’s anxiety about falling behind in the A.I. race among the world’s other major military powers. 

The Department of Defense wants to support a new generation of venture capital start-ups that will purportedly give America a substantial edge over China in an era of “great-power competition.”  The Pentagon believes that the ingenuity of Silicon Valley will give the United States the technological prowess to deter Beijing from taking aggressive action in Taiwan—or the South China Sea—for fear it will be unable to win a potential confrontation with the U.S.