Animals evolved 'extreme weapons' through duels, scientists say after forcing artificial intelligence to fight each other

Arms races are more likely to accelerate when there are only two opponents, study reveals

Anthony Cuthbertson
Wednesday 10 June 2020 11:24
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AI duels revealed that arms races are more likely when there are only two opponents
AI duels revealed that arms races are more likely when there are only two opponents

Simulated warfare between artificial intelligence participants has revealed that "extraordinary forms" of extreme weaponry evolve when combatants fight each other in one-to-one in duels.

Researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand pitted AI players against each other in a war game to better understand how animals evolve weapons.

They found that combatants with improved weapons had a large advantage when fighting in duels, but that this advantage deteriorated when there were more rivals to fight against.

The findings suggest that arms races between animals and in other types of conflict are more likely to be accelerated when there are only two opponents.

The study was based on a current evolutionary hypothesis that predicts the evolution of elaborate weaponry in duel-based systems, such as the exaggerated horns wielded by male dung beetles and stag deer when fighting over females.

"When we experimentally granted focal AIs a weaponry advantage in the form of high-tech units, they enjoyed a greater benefit in duels relative to multi-way skirmished," states a paper detailing the research.

"Therefore, our results suggest that the evolutionary hypothesis regarding the role of duels in animal and military weapon evolution may accurately reflect underlying natural laws of conflict, and possibly explain the occurrence of arms races in disparate duel-like systems."

The researchers concluded that arms races could be fuelled by duels between animals, as well as "non-biological systems such as human technology, business, military escalation, trade wars or cyber warfare."

Artificial intelligence is already used in many facets of modern day warfare to a limited extent. The US Air Force, for example, uses AI to assist pilots in advanced aircraft, allowing them to make complicated manoeuvrers semi-autonomously.

There are even plans to develop an aircraft fully controlled by artificial intelligence that is capable of taking on human pilots in air-to-air combat.

The Pentagon's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center Lieutenant General Jack Shanahan revealed in a recent interview that plans for a man vs machine test is currently scheduled for July 2021.

Advocacy groups have warned military powers that the development of such autonomous weapons "cross a moral threshold" as they lack human characteristics like compassion, which are necessary to make complex ethical decisions.

"If left unchecked, the world could enter a destabilizing robotic arms race," the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots states on its website.

"Fully autonomous weapons would make tragic mistakes with unanticipated consequences that could inflame tensions."

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