Philosopher Kings or New-Age Militarists?

Venture capital and military startup firms in Silicon Valley have begun aggressively selling a version of automated warfare that will deeply incorporate artificial intelligence (AI). Those companies and their CEOs are now pressing full speed ahead with that emerging technology, largely dismissing the risk of malfunctions that could lead to the future slaughter of civilians, not to speak of the possibility of dangerous scenarios of escalation between major military powers. The reasons for this headlong rush include a misplaced faith in “miracle weapons,” but above all else, this surge of support for emerging military technologies is driven by the ultimate rationale of the military-industrial complex: vast sums of money to be made.

The New Techno-Enthusiasts

While some in the military and the Pentagon are indeed concerned about the future risk of AI weaponry, the leadership of the Defense Department is on board fully. Its energetic commitment to emerging technology was first broadcast to the world in an August 2023 speech delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks to the National Defense Industrial Association, the largest arms industry trade group in the country. She used the occasion to announce what she termed “the Replicator Initiative,” an umbrella effort to help create “a new state of the art — just as America has before — leveraging attritable, autonomous systems in all domains — which are less expensive, put fewer people in the line of fire, and can be changed, updated, or improved with substantially shorter lead times.”

Hicks was anything but shy about pointing to the primary rationale for such a rush toward robotic warfare: outpacing and intimidating China. “We must,” she said, “ensure the PRC [People’s Republic of China] leadership wakes up every day, considers the risks of aggression, and concludes, ‘today is not the day’ — and not just today, but every day, between now and 2027, now and 2035, now and 2049, and beyond.”

Hick’s supreme confidence in the ability of the Pentagon and American arms makers to wage future techno-wars has been reinforced by a group of new-age militarists in Silicon Valley and beyond, spearheaded by corporate leaders like Peter Thiel of Palantir, Palmer Luckey of Anduril, and venture capitalists like Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz.