Example of a possible risk situation (automatic decisions)

In context with the discussion about “launch on warning”, there have been repeated threats in the past to launch their own missiles fully automatically by computer in the event of an attack report, without the possibility of human intervention. This leads to the assumption that at least such software components have been developed, even if there is no intention to use them in a fully automated version. However, the development of such software can also contain errors in the design or implementation. Also, not all possible constellations for alarms are foreseeable during software planning. This can also lead to incalculable decisions by the software.

The two crashes of the Boeing 737 Max 8 airplanes on October 29, 2018 and March 10, 2019 show that it can happen through wrong and unfavorable programming that people cannot resist the decisions of the machine. Although the two pilots had behaved correctly, they could not prevent the crashes and the death of all the occupants. They were not able to correct the wrong decisions of the machine.

If, in connection with early warning systems, one or more of the nuclear forces have software components in use that can (partially) automatically support a counter-reaction when an attack is reported, it cannot be ruled out that, due to errors in design or implementation, these software components will perform actions that cannot be stopped by humans, similar to the two airplane crashes. Just as in the case of airplane crashes, actions in early warning systems take place within a few minutes under enormous time pressure.

It is also conceivable that such automatic components could be tested, for example in a simulation environment. Due to errors in the software, even such tests could get out of control and lead to dangerous situations. For example, the Chernobyl disaster was caused by such experiments.

While many people were affected by the Chernobyl disaster and the plane crashes affected the occupants, a similar failure in an early warning system of one of the nuclear powers would possibly affect the whole of humanity if a nuclear winter were to result.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)