In a move that seems right out of a Hollywood film, the US government has decided that rather than leave humans in control of its most powerful weapon, it will instead entrust a computer. Over the weekend the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) announced that it contracting computing company Cray Inc. to build a supercomputer system which would control the US nuclear weapons stockpile.
This supercomputer, called Trinity (after the first nuclear test), will come in the form of a next-generation Cray XC system, utilizing the latest in Intel processing chips. While our hard drives are maxing out at just over a terabyte, the Trinity system will reportedly be able to hold a ridiculous 82 petabytes of data in its storage banks. Its not cheap either - the entire system comes in at $174 million dollars.
I know what you are all thinking though. A supercomputer in charge of thousands of nuclear weapons? This is the exact plot of the Terminator franchise of films.
For those unfamiliar, in this series, a powerful computer system called Skynet was built, and then put in control of the US nuclear arsenal. As tends to happen in movies, everything goes wrong. Skynet develops into an artificial intelligence which then uses its control over the nukes to start a nuclear war to devastate humanity before building robots to finish off the survivors.
Is there really a risk it could turn against us?
While Trinity is being created to nominally “ensure the safety, security and effectiveness of the United States' nuclear stockpile” is there really a risk it could turn against us? Probably not. Such would require radical advances in computing technology to allow a fully self-aware artificial intelligence to form, and indeed there have been much bigger and ‘smarter’ supercomputers than Trinity made, which have not turned on us.
A more realistic and perhaps scarier problem with this kind of system is cybersecurity. By having a huge computer in charge of the most important military assets, it represents a prime target for hackers. No matter how secure the system is engineered to be, all it needs is one weak link to compromise its security, and enable a 3rd party such a hostile nation, or a terrorist group to interfere with the weapons themselves.
Maybe its time to start investing in bunkers?
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