Examining machine learning and the future of defence.

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AI technology is developing rapidly and fast becoming the main topic of moral debate. In the eye of a storm of fear around privacy concerns and worries of how AI could be used in warfare, Adrian Timberlake examines the future of defence and how new developments in AI technology could lead to enhanced security and protection.

Technology that uses artificial intelligence (AI) is predicted to change the defence industry and enhance military operations. Fears around technology that uses AI are focused on the nightmarish idea of ‘killer robots’, but the reality is that technology that uses AI will be used in advanced surveillance, to identify potential threats, and to free up official personnel by completing complex tasks without the requirement for multiple teams and individual equipment.

Technology is already used in these areas to streamline tasks and to enhance the effectiveness of teams; ‘machine learning’ will serve to make operations quicker and more effective – a far cry from ‘killer robots’.

The history of machine learning

To fully understand why fear of new technology is often unfounded, we need to look back to when machine learning was first used in military operations. Noted British computer scientist, Alan Turing, created the Bombe machine that was used to crack the Enigma code (German communications) during the Second World War.

The Bombe machine is widely considered to have laid the foundations for machine learning, which later developed into what we now call AI. People think of AI as new, emerging technology. While it’s true that AI has developed at a rapid rate over the past ten years, this intelligent technology was first developed in the 1950s and the term AI was coined by computer scientist John McCarthy in 1956.

New developments in technology were a vital asset in the Second World War, and technology has been used in military and defence operations for a long time to successfully protect us.

How is AI currently used in defence and military operations?

Current applications of technology that uses AI in defence operations include public security, long range surveillance, drones (UAV) and use of analytics and facial recognition to detect patterns, persons believed to be a threat and objects that pose a potential threat, such as weapons.

How will new developments in technology that uses AI change the defence industry?

We have developed i7sense, a highly adaptable device which uses facial recognition and AI to identify threats and alert official personnel. Applications for i7ense will include surveillance, streamlining operations and gathering intel.

The device is designed to provide autonomous decisions based on requirements set by the human user. This means that the device alerts to situations of potential threat, but the action taken in response will always be down to the human. Industry is now calling this “AI human teaming”.

How could new developments in AI technology enhance operations?

One of the main benefits of using AI technology is that it can streamline operations and free up official personnel. Other useful applications will be acting as surveillance and an intelligent ‘private eye’ for forewarning of threats.

As an example: a surveillance team is sent to track a convoy. Personnel’s’ attention is on the movements of the convoy and operating their vehicles. A unit is waiting to ambush the convoy, their garments disguise them as tourists and it is impossible to recognise their faces from a distance. This group are, in fact, known to have terrorist links and are targeting the convoy. They pose a threat to the entire operation and all people within the area.

Now imagine that the surveillance team is equipped with a device that uses AI, that is programmed to identify and alert personnel to the presence of multiple persons known to be a threat, even at a distance. The device predicts the likelihood of threat to the operation, alerts personnel and reports back to control. Control then decide how to proceed.
This is just one example of how new technology that uses AI could potentially save lives.

i7ense acts as the ‘control centre’ for multiple surveillance operations. It can easily link long-range networks and saves official personnel time by gathering intel and running multiple complex tasks. It can enhance military operations by running tasks that do not require human input, leaving official personnel freer to make the critical decisions on strategy.

It is important that personnel are trained to use new technology effectively. Personnel will still have to anticipate, after an alert of a potential threat, many different scenarios that could proceed from there, as current laws prohibit the development of AI technology that can take lethal action without human input.

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Can AI really replace humans?

The short answer is no. The benefits of using AI technology is that it can automate tasks that do not require decisions that involve ethical considerations. AI was never developed to replace humans; its history documents its purpose of streamlining tasks, calculating equations quickly, deciphering code and relieving official personnel of having to have eyes on every part of an operation. The purpose of AI is not to take jobs, but to allow official personnel to do their jobs more effectively, which will lead to enhanced security and better protection.

It is critical for the defence industry to not only keep up with developments in new technology but to aim to be a world leader in utilising the newest developments in technology to protect us. Technology that uses AI has a long and successful history of keeping us safe and fears around new technology, though understandable, are unfounded.

AI can be a powerful ally in reducing terror threats, cyber crime and threats to military operations.

Technology that uses AI delivers intel, not info. Developers of AI technology are certainly not interested in invading the privacy of law-abiding citizens. If you are not a person of interest to the defence sector, you have no reason to fear a future where AI will become more prominent in defence and military operations.

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Adrian Timberlake
Chief Technical Officer

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