AI in Defense: Navigating Concerns, Seizing Opportunities

By Charles Cohen

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Artificial intelligence continues to shape the defense landscape, bringing unprecedented opportunities alongside an array of concerns.

As the nation advances toward a future increasingly dominated by AI, there’s growing apprehension around how current and future propagation might impact areas such as weaponization, alignment, enfeeblement, eroded epistemics, value lock-in, deception, biases and potential job loss. Nevertheless, these challenges coexist with immense potential benefits, including improved efficiency, accuracy and strategic advantage in defense applications.

AI is a broad term that refers to computer systems designed to mimic human intelligence. It can be programmed to learn, reason, problem-solve, perceive and even interpret language. Two prominent subsets of AI are machine learning, where systems learn from data to improve their performance, and deep learning, a more complex form of machine learning modeled on the human brain.

AI’s potential in defense is vast. It can streamline operations, enhance decision-making and increase the accuracy and effectiveness of military missions. Drones and autonomous vehicles can perform missions that are dangerous or impossible for humans. AI-powered analytics can provide strategic advantages by predicting and identifying threats.

Currently, several key advancements in AI and machine learning have been showing significant potential to reshape the military and defense sectors. They are:

Autonomous Systems: The development of autonomous systems, particularly drones and unmanned vehicles, has been a key area of progress. These systems can handle a range of tasks, from reconnaissance missions to logistics support, and even direct combat scenarios. They can navigate hazardous environments, reducing risk to human soldiers.

Predictive Analytics: Advanced AI/ML models are used for predictive analytics to forecast potential threats or maintenance needs. They can analyze vast amounts of data to spot patterns and trends that might be impossible for human analysts to discern, thereby contributing to proactive defense strategy and efficient resource allocation.

Cybersecurity: AI and machine learning are becoming crucial in the fight against cyber threats. These technologies can identify and respond to potential threats faster than traditional methods, often in real time. They can also learn from each attack, continually improving their defensive capabilities.

AI is also being used to create highly realistic combat simulations for training purposes. These virtual environments can replicate a wide range of scenarios and conditions, providing soldiers with a diverse and comprehensive training experience.

With intelligent systems for command and control, the technologies can assist in processing and interpreting the huge data volumes generated in modern warfare. This can provide commanders with a comprehensive, near real-time picture of the battlefield, aiding decision-making and strategic planning.

As illustrated in the preceding examination of AI’s potential, the transformative opportunities for the defense sector are profound, signifying a future of increased efficiency, strategic superiority and precision.

However, as we transition to the realm of these promising prospects, society must also squarely confront the array of concerns brought about by this revolutionary technology. Developing a comprehensive understanding of these potential challenges is equally vital as harnessing the opportunities to ensure secure, responsible and balanced integration of AI in our defense systems.

With that perspective, the notable concerns associated with the adoption of AI in defense are defined.

“Alignment” refers to ensuring that an AI system’s goals and actions align with human intent. The complexity of AI, its ability to learn independently and the potential lack of transparency in its decision-making process contribute to alignment issues. Misaligned AI could lead to unintended consequences, causing harm while achieving its task. Consequences could range from collateral damage in military operations to widespread disruptions in defense logistics. Combatting this requires explicit programming of human values, continuous monitoring, transparency of the AI decision process and feedback mechanisms to correct its behavior.

The concern of “enfeeblement” stems from an overreliance on AI, which could lead to a decrease in essential human skills and capabilities over time. As AI takes over more tasks, military personnel may become less proficient in these tasks, potentially impacting operational readiness. This necessitates a balanced approach where AI is used to augment, rather than replace, human capabilities. Regular training and skills refreshment are essential to maintain human proficiency in AI-assisted military tasks.

The erosion of our knowledge systems, or “eroded epistemics,” refers to the potential degradation of knowledge systems due to overreliance on AI. If the defense sector uncritically accepts the outputs of AI systems without fully understanding or questioning how those outputs were generated, it could lead to poor strategic and national security decisions.

To combat this, AI education and training for defense personnel needs to be boosted. This involves not only training on how to use AI systems, but also imparting an understanding of their underlying decision-making processes.

Alongside this, it is crucial to foster a culture that values critical thinking and views human intuition and machine intelligence as complementary forces, where there is a willingness to challenge AI outputs. Also, designing more transparent systems that provide understandable explanations for their decisions can ensure better scrutiny and understanding, helping to prevent the “black box” perception of AI.

“Value lock-in” refers to the risk of these systems amplifying or cementing existing values, beliefs or biases, potentially posing challenges in defense operations. This can result in skewed decision-making based on embedded biases or even affect international cooperation due to divergent cultural or ethical values reflected in AI systems.
Mitigating this risk requires a few essential measures. First, continuous testing and auditing of AI systems for bias should be a standard procedure.

Second, incorporating diverse perspectives in setting objectives and values for AI systems, involving experts from different domains, can help ensure a balanced representation of values.

Lastly, fostering transparency in AI development, making AI systems’ decision-making processes and training data open to scrutiny, can assist in identifying and addressing potential value lock-in biases.

Moving from value lock-in, there is a related concern — “biases.” AI systems, reflecting the data they are trained on, can unintentionally propagate biases. In defense, these biases can affect crucial functions, from command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities to threat identification and mission planning.

All systems hold inherent biases. The key lies in identifying and mitigating biases that could impact military readiness and capability. Without careful management, biases can distort strategic decisions, potentially compromising the effectiveness of situational awareness and other key defense functions.

The solution involves using a broad spectrum of representative training data. Continuous auditing for biases in AI systems enables real-time detection and rectification.
Additionally, a human-in-the-loop approach for crucial decisions adds an extra layer of scrutiny, helping to manage and mitigate biases that could impact military capability and mission success, ultimately maximizing AI’s beneficial contribution to defense operations.

The potential for AI systems to be exploited for “deception” extends beyond the creation of “deepfakes,” digitally manipulated videos or images that distort reality. One concern is AI-driven cyber deception, where AI could be utilized to launch sophisticated cyberattacks, mask intrusions or even create decoy targets to divert defense resources. Such deceptive tactics can impair threat detection capabilities, disrupt communication channels and compromise mission-critical systems.

Another is AI-enhanced psychological operations, where AI can be used to tailor disinformation campaigns to exploit individual or group susceptibilities, undermining morale, causing confusion and eroding trust in command structures. AI could also be used in battlefield deception.

To mitigate these threats, advanced AI-based detection tools can help identify and counter deceptive AI tactics. Deploying machine learning algorithms that can discern patterns indicative of AI-generated deception could be crucial in preempting cyberattacks or disinformation campaigns.

Digital forensics is another critical tool. Rigorous analysis of digital evidence can uncover signs of AI-driven deception, such as artifacts in deepfakes or anomalies in network traffic that indicate AI-enhanced cyberattacks. On the organizational front, promoting awareness and resilience among defense personnel is vital. Regular training on the latest AI deception tactics can help personnel recognize potential threats. Cultivating a culture of skepticism toward unverified information can also bolster defenses against AI-enhanced psychological operations.

AI’s rise triggers concern about job losses, extending beyond manual roles to the defense sector’s strategic roles. This shift could disrupt key roles, cause socio-economic impacts, affect morale and reduce the military’s accumulated knowledge and experience. Mitigating these concerns requires proactive planning. Upskilling and reskilling programs can prepare personnel for a future integrated with AI, facilitating their ability to manage AI systems effectively.

And finally, there is the concern about the “weaponization” of artificial intelligence itself, with AI-powered weapons breaching the confines of science fiction to emerge as a tangible reality. The rapid advancements in AI and autonomous systems have enabled the programming of weapons to independently select and engage targets, opening a Pandora’s box of multifaceted implications.

Autonomous weapons, powered by AI, could potentially cover everything from missile systems with advanced targeting capabilities to autonomous drones capable of surveillance or strikes with minimal human intervention. AI can also be used in cyber warfare, powering automated attacks or defenses that operate at speeds no human could match. Moreover, AI can manage extensive data collections, aiding in threat identification and strategic decision-making.

However, alongside these potential uses, concerns loom large. Primarily, the ability of AI to make autonomous decisions raises serious ethical, moral and legal questions about accountability in warfare. Who is to be held accountable if an autonomous weapon makes a flawed decision leading to unintended civilian casualties? How do we ensure that AI-powered weapons abide by the rules of warfare and international law?

While these questions are undeniably crucial, they’re not the only issues we grapple with in the age of AI weaponization. There’s an equally pressing concern: the risk of falling behind in the global AI and military capability arms race. Nations around the world are aggressively pursuing AI technology to augment their military capabilities.

Nations that don’t keep pace with AI advancements may also find themselves strategically disadvantaged on the battlefield. This race isn’t just about maintaining parity; it’s about shaping the future of warfare, making proactive engagement in AI development a matter of national security.

To address these complexities, a multi-pronged approach is essential. Rigorous international regulation, transparency in AI weapon development and robust systems for accountability should indeed be considered. But beyond this, nations should also invest in their own AI development to keep pace with global advancements. They should work collaboratively, not just competitively, to establish international standards and norms for AI use in defense, as we do with nuclear arsenals.

Addressing these concerns requires a comprehensive approach. Robust ethical guidelines, rigorous testing, transparency and training are crucial. We must focus on augmenting human capabilities with AI, not replacing them. AI governance needs to ensure alignment with human values, and we must stay vigilant against potential deception or bias.

Despite these concerns, the integration of AI into defense presents a monumental opportunity. The goal should not be to halt progress but to manage it thoughtfully. By acknowledging and addressing these concerns proactively, we can help shape a future where AI significantly contributes to defense without compromising security, capability, readiness or societal values. ND

Charles J. Cohen, Ph.D., is the chief technology officer at Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Cybernet Systems Corp.


Topics: Cyber, Defense Innovation

Comments (1)

Re: AI in Defense: Navigating Concerns, Seizing Opportunities

"where AI can be used to tailor disinformation campaigns to exploit individual or group susceptibilities, undermining morale, causing confusion and eroding trust in command structures. AI could also be used in battlefield deception." We should look toward the democratic party and the media, they have a robust capability to implement such exploitations.

J Holmes at 12:33 PM
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