Magazine article National Defense

Pentagon Seeks Smarter Machines for Future Combat

Magazine article National Defense

Pentagon Seeks Smarter Machines for Future Combat

Article excerpt

Defense Department officials view autonomous systems and artificial intelligence as the key ingredients of their new warfighting strategy. The Pentagon is now laying the groundwork for the rise of smarter military machines.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said several recent studies conducted by the Pentagon and the Defense Science Board focused on answering the following questions: "Where are we missing capabilities and where would we like new capabilities?"

"There was remarkable consistency," he said at a recent conference hosted by the Center for a New American Security. "The theme that came out over and over and over again is what we call human-machine collaboration and combat teaming....What is it that really is going to make human-machine collaboration and combat teaming a reality? That is going to be advances in artificial intelligence and autonomy that we see around us every day."

Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that the commercial world has already developed sophisticated autonomous systems.

"You and I are on the cusp of being able to own cars that will drive themselves," he told a largely civilian audience at the Brookings Institution, referring to smart vehicles such as ones developed by Google. "The technology exists today. It has been proven."

The Pentagon already possesses unmanned ground, undersea and aerial systems, which are remotely piloted by human beings, he noted. Now "we can actually build autonomous vehicles [that don't require direct human guidance] in every one of those categories."

The technology is advancing rapidly, said Paul Scharre, director of the 20YY Future of Warfare Initiative at CNAS.

"The rapid growth of computing power is resulting in increasingly intelligent machines. When embodied in physical machines, this trend is allowing the growth of increasingly capable and autonomous munitions and robotic systems," he said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in November.

The scientific community has reached an "inflection point" in the power of artificial intelligence and autonomy, which could lead to "entirely new levels of what we refer to as man-machine symbiosis on the battlefield," Work said.

Greg Zacharias, the Air Force's chief scientist, said military researchers are focused on the following areas: development of more advanced sensors and data-gathering technology for systems to better understand their operating environment; development of reasoning systems and software to assess situations and make recommendations or decisions; and the refinement of different ways of carrying out those recommendations and decisions, whether through direct action such as guiding another unmanned platform or through recommendations to another human or machine teammate.

"The overall goal here is to enable systems to react appropriately to their environment and perform situationally appropriate tasks, synchronized and integrated with other autonomous human or machine systems," he said at a House Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee hearing in November.

The Pentagon's plans include the acquisition of "deep learning" systems. Work outlined a potential scenario for how artificial intelligence could be employed in combat as part of a "learning" network:

"If we launch seven missiles at a surface action group and one missile goes high and is looking at all of the different things that the battle group is doing to defend itself and it sees something new that's not in its library, it will immediately report back on the learning network, which will go into a learning machine, which will say [to military commanders], 'There is something you should do'... so that the next seven missiles launched will be that much more effective."

Artificial intelligence and autonomous systems will be critical in future high-tempo warfighting environments, defense experts said. …

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