The US armed forces have been increasing their use of artificial intelligence for years. But over the past decade, the Pentagon has embraced the most advanced forms of artificial intelligence that will fundamentally change the nature of warfare. The Pentagon now aims to deploy thousands of autonomous artificial intelligence systems by 2026 to compete with China.
The ambitious initiative, for which it is not yet clear how much money will be spent, will speed up approval for artificial intelligence technology that will be deemed ready to become part of military activity.
“Artificial intelligence is central to our innovation agenda, helping us compute faster, share information better and leverage different platforms. And this is essential for future warfare,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Air Force Col. Matt Strohmeyer says the ability to make better decisions faster than competitors and adversaries is critical as the U.S. military considers incorporating new technologies.
“It is not about technology simply for the sake of technology. It’s technology that will enable the military to make better and faster decisions,” he says.
There is no doubt in the ranks of scientists and Pentagon officials that the American military arsenal will consequently also contain completely autonomous combat systems. Autonomous drones are expected to one day enter the battlefield in large groups, some for reconnaissance purposes, others to attack.
The new initiative, called Replicator, accelerates the integration of artificial intelligence into the US military.
Two of the companies competing to produce fully autonomous combat systems are Anduril and Shield AI. They have secured funding of hundreds of millions of dollars and work to develop mainly the software, while the drones will be purchased in bulk from other companies.
Craig Martell, the Pentagon’s director of digital technology and artificial intelligence, is less concerned about autonomous weapons making decisions on their own than about systems that might not work as planned.
“Regardless of the autonomy of the system, there will always be a responsible official who understands the limitations of the system, who has been trained with the system, who has the appropriate certainty of when and where to deploy, and who will take responsibility for deployment and implementation of the regulatory framework”, says Mr. Martell.
A pressing challenge remains recruiting and retaining the talent needed to pilot AI technology, while the Pentagon finds itself at a disadvantage in competing with private sector pay levels.