Academic journal article Naval War College Review

NEAR-TERM APPLICATIONS OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: Implementation Opportunities from Modern Business Practices

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

NEAR-TERM APPLICATIONS OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: Implementation Opportunities from Modern Business Practices

Article excerpt

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis made headlines in early 2018 after stating that artificial intelligence (AI) may change the "fundamental nature of war," a groundbreaking premise that could alter the principles of warfare and centuries of military thinking.1 War has been and is meant to be a human endeavor to achieve human ends. AI poses the challenge-or opportunity-of altering that premise. The common picture of AI in warfare raises images of self-directed drones in the sky attacking targets of opportunity at their own discretion; armies of intelligent android warriors in the fashion of I, Robot; or an all-powerful supercomputer dominating humankind, reminiscent of the Terminator and Matrix franchises. While these images from science fiction portray a possible distant future, just as H. G. Wells did with The War of the Worlds, the practical applications of AI involve intricate and redundant tasks that augment human involvement and increase humankind's own abilities and productivity. Rather than replace human participation in war and national security activities, AI supports human beings to make us better at defending the country.

This AI-augmented world is no longer a futuristic discussion. Spurred on by private business and the innovations of Silicon Valley, the world outside the Pentagon is developing new and better uses for AI at exponential rates. The Department of the Navy (DoN) needs to harness the progress of private development in the field of AI, not as an optional benefit or high-speed capability, but as over our nation's enemies. The numerous near-term applications of AI can be implemented today to lay the groundwork for the future of maritime forces and institutions. The first place to implement new technology is in the support functions and noncombat specialties of the Navy and Marine Corps. Current business practices can be implemented within the DoN to reduce costs, increase efficiencies, generate new capabilities, and reduce manpower requirements in noncombat roles, which would increase the number of sailors and Marines available for deployments and operations.

This article begins with a brief review of the status of AI research and development (R&D), existing capabilities, and areas in which private industry is pursuing new opportunities. Second, it will examine the current policy of the Department of Defense (DoD) toward AI implementation. Next, the article will propose nine applications from current business uses of AI wherein the technology could benefit the Navy and Marine Corps. It concludes by demonstrating that integrating AI into the DoN may be a large task, but it is not impossible. By relying on previous examples, the Navy and Marine Corps can institutionalize AI technologies and ensure our ability to respond adequately to the full range of military operations in the future.

Marine Corps lieutenant colonel Earl Hancock "Pete" Ellis's work on amphibious warfare-one of the most important maritime developments of the twentieth century-only led to success in World War II because of the years of preparation, refinement, and experimentation that the Navy and Marine Corps committed to it prior to Pearl Harbor. The same concept holds true today with AI. The groundwork for operations with AI can-and must-be laid today, or the naval forces of the nation will be left unprepared for future missions.


The definition of artificial intelligence has changed many times since the first conference on AI at Dartmouth College in 1956, at which researchers joined together to theorize about the combination of robotics, neural networks, and programming.2 One current definition describes AI as "an entity (or collective set of cooperative entities), able to receive inputs from the environment, interpret and learn from such inputs, and exhibit related and flexible behaviors and actions that help the entity achieve a particular goal or objective over a period of time. …

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