Articles

Tackling the AI Paradox at the Tactical Edge

June 15, 2020

Published in Military Embedded Systems
Written by Emma Helfrich

Artificial intelligence (AI), as the general public understands it, is frequently associated with alluring – and sometimes alarming – ideas of talking robots, champion chess-playing computers, and sentient technology humans shouldn’t trust. In the defense industry, however, AI is on the path to becoming a loyal companion to the warfighter and manufacturers alike. As technology progresses, so does the range of defense capabilities that AI could not only supplement, but eventually manage.

Artificial intelligence – which we humans have chummily shortened to AI – is everywhere. Facial recognition on your phone, predictive technology used by Netflix, Amazon’s Alexa: all of these capabilities are powered by machine learning. These technologies aren’t necessarily as enticing as Hollywood makes AI out to be, but they do exert a major influence on the direction of military AI.

The way that the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) treats both the discussion and utilization of AI depends heavily on the definition of it, which can be subjective. This ties in with what industry professionals have dubbed the AI Paradox: As soon as a capability has been proven to work, it’s no longer considered AI.

Autopilot and fly-by-wire aircraft both use AI but are hardly ever regarded as such. Today, autopilot is thought of as its own capability, with fly-by-wire also its own separate thing. What results is a skewed perception of just how many platforms in the military take advantage of AI and machine learning in day-to-day operations.

What this paradox could also be translated into is simply an integration of AI so seamless that an entirely new capability is now at the military’s disposal. With these advancements, however, come design obstacles that manufacturers face when considering processing power, environment, funding, and the commercial world.

What defines military AI

In order to understand where military AI has been/is going, let’s actually define AI. AI and autonomy, commonly referred to in the same vein, are not quite synonymous. AI is what is needed to enable autonomy, as without it a machine couldn’t become fully autonomous. That being said, AI itself is similarly defined by a specific set of characteristics.

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