Increased Battlefield AI will heighten the danger of the Fog of War.

Increased Battlefield AI will heighten the danger of the Fog of War.

The United States Military and the Power of Artificial Intelligence

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The United States military, a force revered for its prowess, is continuously looking for ways to maintain its position in a rapidly changing world. According to Alexandr Wang, CEO of startup Scale AI, there is one technology that could give the US military a new advantage: artificial intelligence (AI). Speaking before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Cyber, Information Technology and Innovation, Wang stated that if the US military could harness and leverage the massive amounts of data generated by its military hardware, it could create an insurmountable advantage in AI. “We have the largest fleet of military hardware in the world,” Wang said, “If we can properly set up and instrument this data that’s being generated…then we can create a pretty insurmountable data advantage when it comes to military use of artificial intelligence.”

Wang’s company, Scale AI, frequently collaborates with the Pentagon in processing large quantities of training data for AI projects. This aligns with the conviction within US military circles that increased utilization of AI and machine learning is not just inevitable, but also essential. The US military is already employing off-the-shelf robotics and AI software to optimize surveillance in the Middle East’s vast oceanic regions. This growing implementation of AI technology has prompted discussions about how the US military, armed with unparalleled power and resources, can best exploit the technology to its advantage. Wang highlighted two significant advantages the US possesses: the presence of the most advanced AI chipmakers, such as Nvidia, and the world’s leading AI expertise concentrated in America. He confidently asserted, “America is the place of choice for the world’s most talented AI scientists.”

Interestingly, Wang’s interest in military AI is not limited to Scale AI’s collaboration with the Pentagon. Scale AI is also at the forefront of another AI revolution—the development of powerful large language models and advanced chatbots like ChatGPT. While there are currently no plans to enlist ChatGPT in military operations, it is worth noting that the US military can benefit from the recent advancements in AI performance achieved by American companies. However, as AI technology evolves rapidly, questions arise concerning the safeguards needed for military AI.

In 2017, Google faced backlash for assisting the US Air Force in using AI for aerial imagery interpretation through the Pentagon’s Project Maven. However, the attitude towards private sector collaboration with tech companies has evolved due to events such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This incident not only shifted public and political sentiments but also showcased the potential of cheap autonomous drones and commercial AI for data analysis. Today, Ukrainian forces utilize neural deep learning algorithms to analyze aerial imagery and footage, with US company Palantir providing targeting software. Furthermore, Russia is increasingly focusing on AI for autonomous systems.

Despite concerns about “killer robots,” the current reliability of AI is insufficient for their deployment. While researching the Pentagon’s AI ambitions, no one within the Department of Defense, US forces, or AI-focused startups expressed any eagerness to unleash fully autonomous weapons. Instead, the increasing use of AI will result in more military encounters where humans are either removed or abstracted from the decision-making process. Rather than the destructive power of military AI systems, the immediate risk lies in their potential to deepen the fog of war and increase the likelihood of human errors.

Retired four-star admiral John Richardson, former Chief of Naval Operations for the US Navy, believes that AI will have a transformative effect on military power similar to the industrial revolution and the atomic age. He emphasizes the importance of human connections in managing military interactions driven by powerful technology. During his tenure, Richardson actively sought to establish relationships with counterparts in other nations’ fleets. By building personal connections, he aimed to mitigate miscalculations or misunderstandings, emphasizing the need for open lines of communication during critical moments. When it comes to the risks and limitations of AI, now is the time for military leaders around the world to initiate discussions, much like Richardson did.

As the United States military looks towards the future, it recognizes the potential of artificial intelligence to shape military strategy and operations. With the largest fleet of military hardware in the world and access to advanced AI chipmakers and expertise, the US possesses significant advantages. While the implementation of AI technology introduces new challenges, it also presents opportunities for enhanced decision-making and efficiency. However, as AI becomes more central to military operations, careful consideration must be given to ethical implications, safeguards, and the importance of maintaining human connections in a world increasingly driven by AI technology.