Nearly 40 years ago, a computer glitch almost caused a nuclear war. In the autumn of 1983, the world ws teetering on the brink of a nuclear war. But the intuition of one single man, lieutenant Stanislav Petrov, saved the world from total nuclear war. This incident is remembered as the soviet Glitch. On the 26th of September 1983, the soviet early warning system indicaated that the United States had launched five nuclear missiles at the soviet Union. Three weaks earlier, the soviet military had shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007, suspecting it was on a spying mission.
Under Cold War procedured, nuclear retaliation would require that multiple personnel assess whether a real nuclear attack is underway within a strict and short deadline. Stanislav Petrov was a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces. When the Soviet warning sirens began to ring, Petrov followed his intutionl and decided against informing his superiors. He could not believe that all of a sudden the U.S. would hurl five missiles toward the U.S.S.R.
He thought that the U.S. had thousands of missiles in battle readliness, and five missiles would not be enough to wipe the U.S.S.R. off the map. He eventually concluded that a system malfunction had occurred. Petrov's conclusion was correct, but the incident was not received well by his superiors. Petrov had to undergo intense questioning by his superiors about his decision and intentions. He was eventually praised for his correct judgment. However, this computer glitch exposed a major flaw in the Soviet early warning system.
It was later revealed that the glitch was caused by a rare alignment of sunlight on high-altitude clouds. The Soviet glitch caused great embarrassment to Petrov's surperiors and the scientists behind the system. The incident was not revealed to the public until the late 1990's, and Petrov was not rewarded. Petrov suffered a mental breakdown and felt as if he was made a scapegoat. But he never considered himself the hero who saved the world. Instead, he spent the rest of his humble life stating that he did nothing and was only doing his job.
In 2007, while on a visit to the U.S. for the filming of a documentary. Petrov spent two days at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, stating that he would never have imagined being able to visit one of the enemy's securest sites. The Soviet glitch is one of manyfalse alarms and close calls to a nuclear attack. In 1979, the North American Aerospace Defense Command indicated that a full-scale Soviet strike against U.S. nuclear positions was underway.
U.S. military officials feared the worst for 6 minutes straight, only to find out that one of their technicians had mistakenly loaded a simulation into the system without marking it as such. In 1995, Russian President Boris Yeltsin became the first world leader to activate the Russian, nuclear briefcase after Russian rader systems dectected the launch of what was later determined to be a Norwegian research rocket. Russian ballistic missile submarines were put on alert in preparation for a possible retaliatory nuclear strike.
When it became clear the rocket did not pose a threat, the alarm was cancelled. Now, imagine a world where artificial intelligence controls all our systems. Would it be possible that AI could wipe out humanity by simply giving us false alarms of nuclear attacks? This could mistkenly force countries to flight each other and there would be no winners.
What do you think about relying on computers to make important decisions that concern wars? Should humans rely on logic and their sense of judgement, or should computer output determine when we fire back at the enemy? Share your thoughts in the comment section.