The US and its allies should reject calls for a global ban on AI-powered autonomous weapons systems, according to an official report commissioned for the American President and Congress.
It says that artificial intelligence will “compress decision time frames” and require military responses humans cannot make quickly enough alone.
And it warns Russia and China would be unlikely to keep to any such treaty.
But critics claim the proposals risk driving an “irresponsible” arms race.
“This is a shocking and frightening report that could lead to the proliferation of AI weapons making decisions about who to kill,” said Prof Noel Sharkey, spokesman for the Campaign To Stop Killer Robots.
“The most senior AI scientists on the planet have warned them about the consequences, and yet they continue.
“This will lead to grave violations of international law.”
The report counters that if autonomous weapons systems have been properly tested and are authorised for use by a human commander, then they should be consistent with International Humanitarian Law.
The recommendations were made by the National Security Commission on AI – a body headed by ex-Google chief Eric Schmidt and ex-Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, who served under Presidents Obama and Trump.
Other members include Andy Jassy, Amazon’s next chief executive, Google and Microsoft AI chiefs Dr Andrew Moore and Dr Eric Horvitz, and Oracle chief executive Safra Catz.
Much of the 750-page report focuses on how to counter China’s ambition to be a world leader in AI by 2030.
It says that senior military leaders have warned the US could “lose its military-technical superiority in the coming years” if China leapfrogs it by adopting AI-enabled systems more quickly – for example by using swarming drones to attack the US Navy.
“The DoD [Department of Defense] has long been hardware-oriented toward ships, planes, and tanks [and] is now trying to make the leap to a software-intensive enterprise,” the report says.
“If our forces are not equipped with AI-enabled systems guided by new concepts that exceed those of their adversaries, they will be outmatched and paralysed by the complexity of battle.”
The report predicts AI will transform “all aspects of military affairs”, and talks of rival algorithms battling it out in the future.
And while it warns that badly-designed AI systems could increase the risk of war, it adds that “defending against AI-capable adversaries without employing AI is an invitation to disaster”.
It does, however, draw the line at nuclear weapons, saying these should still require the explicit authorisation of the president.
And it says the White House should press Moscow and Beijing to issue public commitments of their own over this matter.