At the CRO Summit before RoboBusiness 2017 last week, attendees discussed topics such as whether the threat of automation is real. A question that arose during the session on “Separating Hype From Reality — Selling Upward and Setting Expectations” was whether artificial intelligence is in its infancy or truly ready for the world stage, and it inspired me to consider military AI.
While the Chief Robotics Officer speakers focused on AI’s business potential, perhaps the best way to determine whether AI is ready for the real world is to look at it through the defense lens. Military AI isn’t in its infancy; it is a teenager on the verge of becoming an adult. Governments around the world are deploying AI in a variety of ways, tilting the balance of geopolitical power.
In the U.S., the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working on a project called CODE (Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment). It seeks to reduce the complexity for a human operator controlling dozens of drones by allowing the drones to make some decisions on their own. The military AI would allow drones to not only identify targets on their own, but also to “engage” them.
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- Commercial applications of artificial intelligence are still in their early days, but military AI is quietly getting funding to advance. National AI initiatives provide a glimpse of upcoming AI capabilities.
- Certain sectors have been developing different types of AI, including for healthcare, finance, and self-driving cars. In addition, the U.S., Russia, and China have been pursuing autonomous weapons systems.
- Aside from ethical concerns around an AI arms race, military AI could lead to civilian spin-offs.
Russia and China keep up with military AI
In Russia, the Tactical Missiles Corp. is working on an AI-guided missile. A portion of these missiles, inspired by the Raytheon Block IV Tomahawk cruise missile used by the U.S. in Syria in April, could be developed within a few years. A more advanced version, which would give the missiles “self-learning” capabilities, could be available by 2050.
Russia is also working on a new kind of AI to enable drone swarms.
China is also working on military AI. For example, China Aerospace and Industry Corp. said in August that it also wants to develop AI cruise missiles. Last month, a senior official in China’s government said that Beijing is examining AI to predict terrorism and social unrest.
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More on Business, Military AI, and Robotics:
- Toyota Robotics, AI Investments Are Selective, Strategic, Says RoboBusiness Panelist
- AI Readiness Is Key to Robotics Advancement
- Knightscope Adds Mobile, Stationary Sentry Robots to RaaS Line
- CROs Need Robotics, AI Roadmap to Prepare Others for the Future
- MITRE’s Charlene Stokes Talks About Her Human-Machine Research, Defense Robotics, RoboBusiness
- Why Governments Should Attend RoboBusiness 2017
- U.S. Builds AI Competitiveness as Russia Warns on Global Leadership
- Job Fears Prompt Teamsters to Take on Self-Driving Trucks; Russia Touts AI Missiles
- AI Competition Seen as Key to National Security
- Geopolitics Guides Military Robotics Race
- Robotics Companies Should Develop a ‘GeoRobotics’ Strategy
Military AI looks to the future
I described something much like the use of AI to prepare governments for terrorism, social unrest, or other crises in my book. I proposed the concept of “predictive foreign policy,” in which nations might start using AI to predict events on the world stage.
The fact that the U.S., Russia, and China have turned to military AI — and we haven’t even discussed weaponized bots — is a strong indicator of how quickly the technology might develop for commercial use.
These powers wouldn’t create these projects and publicly announce these applications unless they believed that military AI has reached a certain level of maturity. Even if it’s merely competitive posturing, they must believe they can develop sophisticated AI based on the capabilities and talent that exists today.
How might machine learning, deep learning, and AI in general “trickle down” to the private sector? With DARPA, NASA, and other U.S. agencies, this has been through government contractors, licensed and declassified technologies, and spinoffs.
How might military AI eventually lead to advancements that will benefit both large enterprises and small and midsize businesses? Those who believe that AI is in its infancy might miss the real wave of innovation. Whether AI is funded by government projects, is stolen or reverse-engineered from foreign countries, or originates in universities or the private sector, companies interested in AI applications should watch.