Artificial intelligence is becoming more important to warfare. The US, China and Russia are all working on their military artificial intelligence capability and other computer capabilities. In their March 2, 2018 Wall Street Journal article "The New Arms Race in AI," Julian E. Barnes and Josh Chin give a very useful rundown of some of the things happening in this area. The sheer growth in computing power is a key driver:
Fueling the AI race is processing power, an emerging area of strategic competition between China and the U.S. Chinese state media reported in January that researchers with the National University of Defense Technology and National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin had made a breakthrough in building a conventional supercomputer at exascale—10 times faster than today’s supercomputers—scheduled for completion by 2020. “That’s a revolutionary, generational leap up,” said Dr. Cheung.
Distinct from raw processing power is the rise of quantum computing. For now, the low-hanging fruit from quantum computing is its value in breaking codes, and for itself enabling unbreakable encryption:
In the city of Hefei in eastern China, work began last year on a $1 billion national quantum-information-sciences laboratory. Slated to open in 2020, it will build on research already under way nearby in the lab of physicist Pan Jianwei, who led the team that launched the world’s first quantum communications satellite. The project propelled China far ahead of others in transmitting information with essentially unbreakable quantum encryption.
But quantum computing could be important in the long-run for sheer processing power. My intuition for the power of quantum computing comes from the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Quantum computing has the potential to harness a multitude of copies of a computer in close-by alternate universes that are still entangled and haven't fully separated yet.
Here are some of the things artificial intelligence could do on the battlefield, as described by quotations from Julian Barnes and Josh Chin's article:
- ... scan video from drones and find details that a human analyst would miss—identifying, for instance, a particular individual moving between previously undetected terrorist safe houses.
- The F-35, one of America’s most advanced jet fighters, uses AI to evaluate and share radar and other sensor data among pilots, expanding their battlefield awareness. AI stitches together information and highlights what is likely most important to the pilot.
- The U.S. Army is working on tactical augmented reality systems—sort of a Google Glass for war—using goggles or a visor that could display video from drones flying above, current position and enhanced night vision. AI-powered computing could add information about incoming threats, targets and areas that have to be protected.
- AI also could vastly improve the effectiveness of airstrikes, ... launch a cluster of missiles at the target. ... China is developing similar technology. In January, the country’s military TV network broadcast footage of researchers testing such “swarm intelligence,” which could eventually link dozens of armed drones into an automated attack force.
- AI could speed up warfare to a point where unassisted humans can’t keep up—a scenario that retired U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen calls “hyperwar.” In a report released last year, he urged the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to step up its investments in AI, including creating a center to study hyperwar and a European Darpa, particularly to counter the Russian effort. ... In hyperwar, the side that will prevail will be the side that is able to respond more quickly,” Gen. Allen said. “Artificial intelligence will collapse the decision-action loop in a very big and very real way.”
- Russia is investing in AI as well. Moscow has focused on creating autonomous weapons powered by AI and hopes in the coming decade to have 30% of its military robotized, which could transform how it fights. Russia’s sophisticated drone development lags behind the U.S., but it has exceptional expertise in electronic warfare, and AI technologies could boost it further.
The US has great expertise in computer hardware and software in the private sector, but many private companies are leery of being involved in military research.
In addition to the role of artificial intelligence and other computational capabilities in kinetic warfare, cyberespionage and cyberwar that attacks the internet itself or spreads computer viruses and worms is a great danger. I'd like to see the US government devote more resources to addressing all of these threats.
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