White Sands Missile Range. Photo: Zoltan Istvan

We Must Destroy Nukes Before an Artificial Intelligence Learns to Use Them

Why transhumanists favor nuclear disarmament.

Nov 10 2015, 2:00pm

White Sands Missile Range. Photo: Zoltan Istvan

A few Fridays ago, I was supposed to be speaking to Onate High School in Las Cruces, New Mexico, as part of my presidential campaign on the Transhumanist platform.

A science teacher had invited me to lecture at the school, but an assistant principal called it off at the last minute. Maybe bringing a bus shaped like a giant coffin to a public high school is a little much.

With no event that day for our bus tour, Transhumanist Party videographer Roen Horn, Slate columnist Mark O'Connell, and I drove 30 miles east until we got to White Sands Missile Range which is home to an outdoor missile museum. Still an active military base, it takes a 10-minute security inspection and a stamped clearance to even be able to enter the area.

The reason why a photo-op of transhumanists in front of missiles felt necessary? The fact that 25,000 nuclear bombs exist around the world. A detonated bomb in a mega-city could easily kill hundreds of thousands.

Generally speaking, many transhumanists strongly advocate for using science and technology to eliminate death. This means much of the movement and its scientists are focusing on stopping aging through gene therapies, overcoming disease through robotic organs, and living longer via radical diets or imbibing a handful of pills every day.

While I actively support all these longevity techniques, it's important to realize that death doesn't just come through the human aging and disease, but also through human folly. This is why I believe transhumanists should also be deeply concerned about existential risk, such as nuclear warfare. I personally advocate for dismantling all nuclear weapons.

Thankfully, it's not just transhumanists who are concerned about such risks. In the October Democrat CNN debate, Hillary Clinton noted that nuclear threat is a great worry for her.

Death doesn't just come through the human aging and disease, but also through human folly

To me, it's critical that major politicians continue to be vocal about this ongoing dilemma. As a society, we have become complacent to the fact that so many nuclear arms are still out there. But tensions between Russia and America, as well as those of China and America, are a stark reminder we should not ever get complacent. The ongoing rivalry between India and Pakistan, also nuclear heavyweights, should be considered too.

The first nuclear bomb, called Little Boy, was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. Eighty thousand people immediately perished.

Six years before, the creation of the bomb began with a suggestion by Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard and Albert Einstein to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which culminated with the Manhattan Project, perhaps the most impressive of any technological effort the United States has ever engaged in.

It's sad to me that one of America's greatest technology efforts is one of war. However, it's not only open war civilization should be worried about; it's thievery or malfunction of nuclear arms, too.

Additionally, a major coming worry about nuclear weaponry is the rise of artificial intelligence and a Terminator scenario unfolding. I'm quite certain the highest long term military priority of America is the development and containment of coming artificial intelligence, because whichever country creates a superintelligent AI first would probably have the ability to break and rewrite all nuclear codes on the planet. Such power could change the global political landscape overnight.

Whichever country creates a superintelligent AI first would probably have the ability to break and rewrite all nuclear codes on the planet

Walking around the missile park—with its big yellow signs warning visitors to beware of rattlesnakes—it's impossible not to get the feeling this is war exhibit dedicated to men and their toys of fighting. An indoor museum is attached to the outdoor missile park, and nearly every portrait of the missile base founders and operators was of a gray-haired Caucasian man steeped in the means of warfare. Looking at those pictures, I longed for a new, diverse generation of transhumanist-minded influencers and leaders to come reinvent how we handle the security of Americans and people on Earth. Clearly, there must be a better way than the ironic amassing of tens-of-thousands of four-story tall killing machines.

Zoltan Istvan is a futurist and 2016 US Presidential candidate of the Transhumanist Party. He writes an occasional column for Motherboard in which he ruminates on the future beyond human ability.