The technological revolution of the 21st century is changing the face of the United States warfighter. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is disrupting modern warfare while giving the US military, its partners, and subsidiaries an opportunity to develop the next generation of advanced war technology and strategy. Developments of this scale and power raise both opportunities and challenges that must be identified, tracked, and confronted. The US military is actively working to stay at the forefront of research and development in this uncharted territory despite uncertainty, distrust, and concerns buzzing around AI applications.
AI has already had tangible impacts on data analysis and computing. Since World War II, The US has used partially autonomous systems in its tech, and today AI has allowed for revolutionized data processing. AI can sift through thousands of sources, languages, platforms, and data sets in countless use cases to identify trends and make recommendations. The Information and Communication sector has grown and benefited the most from AI development – mainly because this sector receives the most funding. But some researchers attribute AI’s success in the information sphere to fewer perceived ethical dilemmas and safety risks attributed to AI’s deployment for information purposes. But this perceived safety is not necessarily true safety. While research on the impact that AI has had on cybersecurity is limited, developers generally understand that AI has the power to augment cybersecurity, but also it can exploit weak systems and lead to dangerous cyber-attacks.
AI also has the potential to vastly improve spatial and situational awareness in contested environments through machine learning. Referred to as ‘mosaic warfare’, AI can link warfighter platforms like missile batteries, tanks, planes, ships, etc. through communication networks. This capability can support decision-making and mission planning in ways that human expertise alone may not. Defense research laboratories are developing technologies that optimize mission planning and execution in this way.
But some major challenge that the defense industry needs to overcome is public trust, ethics, and legislation regarding AI. A lot of AI technology is developed in the lab but not integrated into military technology because of performance uncertainty and fear of backlash. Some opposers call unmanned drones and vehicles ‘autonomous killing machines.’ And if an autonomous machine misreads its surrounds and makes an error that takes a life, where is accountability sought? These kinds of questions plague AI development, and there is no clear solution to dilemmas of this nature. Researchers and scholars predict that militaries will introduce robots capable of undertaking tasks and missions autonomously eventually. But as mentioned, implementation needs to overcome hurdles beyond only lab production. And the Department of Defense and other agencies barely have a comprehensive definition of AI published, let alone strict, extensive ethical law. While in the past few years, the Department of Defense has improved and released guidelines for industry, there is space for development.
This article is meant to highlight some ways in which AI is changing and challenging the warfighter. For now, AI’s major contributions to the warfighter are in information and communication advancements. These advancements can overhaul warfare on their own, but researchers see another wave of AI on the horizon in the form of autonomous robots and machines. And this technology will demand that the US military use care, caution, and precise planning to maintain a safe, secure, and ethical war force.
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