The Future of Artificial Intelligence: How Will AI Affect Military Operations?
Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to fundamentally change how war is fought. The U.S. military has been investing in AI capabilities for some time now, with early experiments dating as far back as the 1990s. Emerging AI technologies like machine learning, natural language processing, and robotics are creating new battlefield applications for AI that will significantly improve mission effectiveness, efficiency and speed of operations. With advancements in sensor technology and big data sets, AI-based analytics programs now have more information than ever before to make sense of it all. Thanks to these technological developments, we’re seeing rapid progress in the application of AI to military situations. This article explores how AI will affect military operations in the future, both to a greater degree than is currently being seen and also by introducing new ways of thinking about how it can be used effectively by soldiers on the ground or pilots in aircraft on missions.
Where Will AI be Used in Military Operations?
AI will be used in the following scenarios:
- Decide: Where humans will still have a role in the battlefield
- Recognize: Detecting, recognizing and identifying objects - Discover: Finding information from data, text and images - Plan: Establishing benchmarks for future operations
- Drive: Using autonomous robotics to execute plans
- AI-Based Virtual Assistants Will Become Standard Equipment
- Decentralized Command and Control
- Autonomous Weapons Will Be The Go-To Option
- Using AI for Real-Time Language Translation
- AI Drones Will Be the Eyes in the Sky
- Robotic Warfare
Decide: Where humans will still have a role in the battlefield
The first aspect of military operations that we’ll look at is how AI will decide the battlefield. This involves everything from setting the objectives for a mission, to choosing the location for an operation and selecting the best personnel for the job. Historically, these have been tasks left to officers and commanders on the ground, and computers have never been involved in this decision-making process, except for perhaps an algorithm that calculates mathematical probabilities behind the selection of an objective based on distance, time and available resources. However, AI is now set to change that. Computers are increasingly capable of analyzing data, assessing risk and making decisions based on probability. AI can now be applied to this kind of problem, helping officers make better-informed decisions based on situational analysis and data gleaned from a variety of sources, including satellite imagery, sensors, weather reports and more.
Recognize: Detecting, recognizing and identifying objects
Once the location and objectives of a military operation have been decided, the next step is to find out exactly what the battlefield looks like. This includes detecting and identifying both friendly and enemy forces as well as any civilian populations that might be nearby. Such capabilities are currently used to a limited extent, but they are set to become more sophisticated with the introduction of AI. Sensors can now be equipped with computer vision software that can recognize objects from images, allowing them to be identified through the lens of AI. The technology works well in bright, sunny conditions, but there are plans to make it work at night too.
Discover: Finding information from data, text and images
Once the battlefield has been detected and identified, it’s time to discover information about it. There are a number of different types of information to be discovered, but perhaps the most significant is the locations of military forces. The locations of friendly troops are critical for planning operations, and troops on the ground can make mistakes when marking out their positions on a map, sometimes leading to friendly fire incidents. In the future, AI-equipped sensors will be able to detect the presence of friendly forces and the position of identified friendly forces will be precisely marked on maps based on computer analysis of visual data. Moreover, AI can also be used to discover other types of information relevant to the battlefield, including the weather, topographical maps, population statistics and more.
Plan: Establishing benchmarks for future operations
One of the most exciting potential applications of AI in the military is the ability of computers to predict future events based on current data. This is a special type of machine learning that can be applied to many different areas of military operations, from predicting the weather to forecasting the best time to launch a planned operation. AI-equipped computers will be able to learn from past operations and discover new patterns in data, setting up a system of benchmarks that can be used to predict future outcomes based on current conditions. This isn’t just useful for predicting weather patterns or when the best time for an operation is. AI can be used to forecast patterns of enemy activity too, giving military commanders a clearer picture of how the battlefield is likely to look in the future.
Drive: Using autonomous robotics to execute plans
In the future, autonomous robotics will be used to drive military operations, executing plans based on the data discovered earlier on in the process. The most common use of autonomous robotics in military operations is in the use of armed drones, but other autonomous systems are being developed too. These include automated supply chains, logistics and remote medical support, as well as autonomous ships, submarines and ground vehicles.
AI-Based Virtual Assistants Will Become Standard Equipment
As AI becomes more prominent in military operations, virtual assistants will become an important part of this, helping soldiers and pilots with everything from planning operations to performing supply chain management. Automated voice recognition software has existed for some time now, but it’s been limited in its ability to understand language. That’s now changing thanks to advancements in natural language processing, a technology that allows AI to understand and interpret human speech. This technology can be used to create a virtual assistant that can be accessed through any computer, phone or other device with a screen and internet connection. Such an assistant could be used to access mission data, track progress and provide real-time analysis about the current state of the operation.
Decentralized Command and Control
The concept of decentralized command and control has been around for a while, but with the advent of AI, this technique will be significantly more effective. Shifting command and control away from a single headquarters and distributing it among individual teams on the ground will allow more flexible, adaptive operations. Achieving this has always been challenging because of the need to communicate mission details between different locations and coordinate actions between different teams. But now that AI is able to recognize patterns and make predictions based on current data, decentralized command and control could become a reality.
Autonomous Weapons Will Be The Go-To Option
The use of autonomous weapons in military operations has been controversial, with human rights groups consistently campaigning against “killer robots.” However, autonomous weaponry is set to become the go-to option for military commanders. This is because AI offers an advantage over human operators when it comes to making decisions based on data and spotting potential threats. This is particularly relevant in areas where there’s a high risk of friendly fire, such as urban areas.
Using AI for Real-Time Language Translation
AI is now able to translate languages real-time. This has huge potential for military operations, particularly in areas where there are large numbers of non-English speakers, such as in the Middle East. Such a capability would allow soldiers on the ground to communicate with civilians, as well as other military personnel, without relying on a translator. This could be especially useful in emergency situations where time is of the essence and every moment is critical.
AI Drones Will Be the Eyes in the Sky
Aircraft are currently used to fly over areas of the battlefield where it’s difficult for ground troops to see what’s going on, like in dense forests or when it’s too dark to see. AI-based sensors will be able to replace these aircraft, improving operational efficiency. Such sensors will be able to detect and identify objects, as well as discover information from data, text and images. They’ll then be able to transmit this data back to ground troops, providing them with a better view of the battlefield.
Military operations often involve entering areas considered too dangerous for human soldiers, such as nuclear facilities, chemical plants and dense forests. While autonomous robotics has been used to perform tasks like bomb disposal, there are now plans to use it in more offensive operations, with AI providing the brains behind the robots. Robotics has been in use in the military for many years, with ground vehicles and aircraft in use.