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Artificial intelligence is rapidly transforming the art of war

Artificial intelligence is rapidly transforming the art of war
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Several months ago, Vladimir Putin said, “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind ... whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its sister technologies will be the engine behind the fourth industrial revolution, which the World Economic Forum described as “unlike anything humankind has experienced before.”

These technologies are capturing people’s imagination. However, one area remains in the shadow of public discourse: AI’s implications for national security and future warfare.

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AI’s promise, in the context of national security and armed conflicts, is rooted in three main fields: improving efficiency through automation and optimization; automation of human activities; and the ability to influence human behavior by personalizing information and changing the way information is shared.

 

Efficiency — the optimal use of minimal resources — is key. In 2016, Google successfully reduced its data center cooling energy use by 40 percent with the “deep mind” neural network. If military planners could reduce spending by 40 percent while maintaining a high level of strategic supremacy and operational readiness, precious resources could be allocated to long-term capacity building, as well as curing the chronic disease of democracy — the constant, growing burden of defense and security spending.

The characteristics of the current and future battlefield pose a great challenge to advanced militaries. Modern battlefields have become a hide-and-seek playground, especially since armed conflicts now focus on heavily populated urban areas. Advanced militaries must choose one of two alternatives: exercise air power, thus causing civilian casualties, or deploy boots on the ground, thus risking heavy losses.

AI could change this costly equation. Combined with "big data" and predictive analytics, it could help militaries identify patterns, links, and anomalies in vast amounts of information. Image processing could find the enemy needle in the urban haystack, while fusion centers could automatically combine massive amounts of data from various sources into landscape analysis for forces in the field.

In cyberspace, AI is already used by both attackers and defenders. Given the state of cybersecurity today, however, greater implementation of AI systems could be a real turning point. New generations of malware and cyberattacks can be difficult to detect with conventional cybersecurity protocols, especially if they themselves use AI. Machine learning allows defending systems to adapt over time, giving defenders a dynamic edge over hackers. AI-based systems can also categorize and prioritize attacks based on threat level. With this kind of automation, there’s almost no doubt that we will soon witness cyber wars machine-to-machine.

And while robots might yield better results in military tasks than humans, full-scale implementation is still far from feasible, especially given the current limits of such basic physical abilities as walking and running. It is more likely that we will witness the emergence of “swarms” of micro-drones capable of performing a wide array of tasks, such as intelligence gathering, gaining aerial dominance, or firing highly-accurate micro-missiles.

Finally, AI will play a significant role in winning the hearts and minds of civilians. Advertisers already use AI to tailor messages to the consumer, based on observed-past and predicted-future behavior. Furthermore, AI can create an alternative truth, with no basis in real facts. Current software can create scenes that have never occurred by manipulating existing visuals and sounds. These capabilities are already used to influence political behavior, and there’s every reason to believe that the battle over narratives — or the truth — is only in its infancy.

These rapid technological developments pose a great challenge to national security, but they also hold incredible promise. We can only hope that our policy-makers will deploy AI to its greatest advantage.

Shay Hershkovitz, Ph.D., is a political science professor specializing in intelligence studies. He is also a former IDF intelligence officer whose book, "Aman Comes To Light," deals with the history of the Israeli intelligence community.