NDIA PERSPECTIVE ROBOTICS AND AUTONOMOUS SYSTEMS
The Imperative for Artificial Intelligence
The United States enjoys a long track record of dominating conventional military operations, driven in large part by our technological superiority — the nation’s ability to develop new capabilities and rapidly integrate them into military operations.
However, continued dominance is not assured. Whereas in the past the military funded most major technology breakthroughs and thus could prevent potential adversaries’ access, today commercial entities lead the development of cutting-edge technology, providing rivals with the opportunity to obtain and rapidly operationalize advanced capabilities, weakening America’s traditional advantages.
To protect the U.S. military’s technological edge, government, industry and academia must work together to develop and operationalize artificial intelligence, the technology most likely to drive outcomes on future battlefields.
The 2018 National Defense Strategy places a strong focus on AI as an emerging technology that will change society and ultimately the character of war. It is quickly becoming a technical discriminator as both commercial and government entities seek to leverage it for competitive advantage.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Defense Department, which sees AI as critical to future military capability. Recently, Defense Deputy Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan signed a memo establishing the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to accelerate delivery of AI-enabled capabilities, synchronize activities and assure their department-wide impact.
Several other defense and intelligence community initiatives serve as pathfinders for the rapid development and deployment of AI. Pairing leading commercial entrepreneurs and innovators with warfighters from all services, these partnerships define the department’s toughest challenges, and identify promising capabilities to tackle them. These partnerships, if successful, will offer a blueprint for collaboration.
Collaboration between government, academia and industry will determine success or failure in effectively operationalizing AI capabilities. Warfighters understand the challenges and academia and industry have the expertise to develop solutions. For instance, new weapons systems are drowning warfighters in information. They desperately need capabilities to synthesize data and package it into timely, actionable information, insights and recommendations. Data overload is easy to predict when fifth-generation fighter aircraft produce 8 terabytes of data from a single sortie, and defensive cyber platforms require petabytes of network data to accurately identify, isolate and attribute emerging cyber threats.
The services simply cannot recruit, train, pay and retain sufficient numbers of personnel to thoroughly identify and analyze this data. Artificial intelligence offers the potential to process the data and provide correlations leading to insights that could drastically improve mission capability and protect U.S. forces.
As the pace of AI innovation accelerates, the United States risks falling behind adversaries, as they make billion-dollar investments in commercial entities to secure a broad and deep AI innovation base. They will use this foundation to create asymmetric advances that would allow them to dominate future conflicts.
To prevent technological inferiority, we must accelerate application of AI capabilities in key areas including intelligence, digital engineering and cyberspace operations to enhance warfighters’ situational awareness and effectiveness.
The National Defense Industrial Association plays an important role in ensuring the nation maintains technological superiority. In accordance with its mission to bring government, industry and academia together to solve the nation’s toughest national security challenges, it provides critical forums for the exchange of information supporting AI development and application.
For example, our Robotics Division is exploring the role of AI in autonomous vehicle operations and swarming, paying particular attention to safety in operations. Similarly, our Test and Evaluation
Division and the Industrial Committee on Test and Evaluation are working with the director of operational test and evaluation to understand the testing implications for systems employing AI.
The Systems Engineering Division is exploring incorporating AI from the systems perspective as well as its impact on digital engineering. The Cyber-Augmented Operations Division is synchronizing AI efforts to capitalize on synergies with other emerging technologies.
Finally, NDIA Chapters in Fort Walton Beach, Orlando, San Diego, Tampa, Michigan, Georgia and Dayton, Ohio, are working closely with local commands and organizations on AI-related programs.
Recognizing the cross-cutting impact of artificial intelligence across the spectrum of missions and the defense industry, NDIA will introduce an AI community of influence to create synergies across its 65 divisions, chapters, committees, working groups and affiliates.
One aspect of this community will be to help define and address ethical concerns tied to AI, particularly in regard to automation of lethality. Clearly the United States must develop policies, procedures and rules of engagement to ensure responsible deployment of emerging capabilities. We must find a way to responsibly harness these capabilities to protect warfighters and the nation because we know others, who may not share our ethical concerns, will continue their investment in and development of AI capabilities.
Retired Navy Capt. Frank J. Michael is NDIA senior vice president of programs and membership. Shane Shaneman is director of strategic government research and engagements at Carnegie Mellon University. Views expressed are his and not necessarily the views of the university.