23 September 2019

The British Ministry of Defence is investing in Artificial Intelligence

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

The British MoD has just awarded a £700,000 contract for the research and development of a “digital assistant” with Artificial Intelligence (AI) to provide soldiers, in crises situations, information, possible action scenarios and instructions to repair the armament and the fight techniques, via computer link.

Image source: Mediafax

The current phase and quick controversies

It sounds great, one may say, but is seems that the use of “digital military assistants” is not completed yet. The investment in AI platforms, from drones, to facial recognition, to providing information collected by sensors in the electromagnetic spectrum up to processing and analyzing the information will encourage the technological development and the algorithmic learning, but it still requires time. Also, soldiers will have to define clearly the operational relation between people and machines. The answers to such questions will not be clear until the AI implementation will be tested. This test involves reviewing forces’ use doctrines, but also paradigm changes, emerged due to the fact that AI’s use multiplies forces, offering better information to commanders and intensifies the operational process. In other words, it will offer better and faster results or, to put it differently, fight’s success. Using AI will help them when making decisions and will allow commanders and soldiers to increase their advantage against their enemies, whether state or non-state adversaries.

The British project… a frontline digital assistant

The specification for the AI system requires it to be accessible via military “tactical radios” and handheld devices, suggesting that it could even be used by troops on the frontline engaged in combat to access intelligence and vital information. Although initially text based, the chatbot could also be further developed to give instructions by voice.

Digital assistants have become ubiquitous in civilian life with homeowners using systems such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home to access information by “conversing” with the software via the so-called digital cloud. Similar “chatbot” systems using text have long been available on shopping or information websites. But the advent of a military chatbot would take the use of interactive AI to a new dynamic environment, and one to suffer from quick situation changes, at least at a tactical level.

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), the MoD agency which explores new military technology, said it was interested in an automated system to allow personnel to access secure databanks. A briefing document for the system states the project is to “show how access to information and intelligence may be improved for military users who are operating via tactical radios… through the use of a digital assistant”. According to the same document, the “the chatbot is to be located on the opposite end of the radio link to the military user at a location with good connectivity to military information/intelligence resources and services. Therefore, one of the research program’s requirement is the identification of precise circumstances where the chatbot could be used.

Envitia is a Sussex-based software company which won the DSTL contract for this 12-months project. Company’s representatives stated that the system will enable soldiers to have “conversations” with the chatbot, which would in turn filter data to ensure only relevant information is presented. The chatbot could be used in scenarios like providing information for vehicles repair or all types of information during the development of an operation. Envitia representatives have stated that the “chatbot” would offer only the consultative information, without replacing the commanders or their orders.

“Chatbots” are already used by many armed forces in the entire world. In the US, the future troops’ commanders are guided in their initial phases of the recruitment process by “Sergeant Star”, an AI chatbot which has replaced the work of 55 personnel by dispensing online advice.

Instead of epilogue… a closer reality

Now, all of this looks like a “fiction” story… a group or platoon commander, screaming in his station to a “chatbot” to get advices for the next move in the battlefield. The idea that a computer would know better than a trained soldier what must be done in such a complex environment like a battlefield is far from being possible now. However, we should not act like thick heads…

The idea that an algorithm could collect and analyze many information and data and could quickly, logically and clearly present them to a commander is way more possible. Most likely, this is what the British army is looking for. The military conflicts have intensified the technological development, and the Artificial Intelligence is a key area for the military research, from controlling a drone to monitoring the terrorist threats.

But, in the end, a military “chatbot” could simply use the already existent technologies. The conversation with a computer through a station or a pop-up is already part of the daily life of millions of citizens in this world.

The challenge for researchers who are trying to improve a “kaki chatbot” is the analyzation of a huge amount of existent information in the military systems to only present the relevant materials and get it through this process without being intercepted or “influenced” by an enemy.

Translated by Andreea Soare