That AI and—if it were to advance significantly—AGI are of importance to DoD is so self-evident that it needs little elucidation here. Weapons systems and platforms with varying degrees of autonomy exist today in all domains of modern warfare, including air, sea (surface and underwater), and ground.
To cite a few out of many possible examples: Northrop Grumman’s X-47B is a strike fighter-sized unmanned aircraft, part of the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) Carrier Demonstration program. Currently undergoing flight testing, it is capable of aircraft carrier launch and recovery, as well as autonomous aerial refueling.4 DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program recently commissioned the “Sea Hunter”, a 130 ft. unmanned trimaran optimized to robustly track quiet diesel electric submarines.
The Samsung SGR-A1 is a South Korean military robot sentry designed to replace human counterparts in the Korean demilitarized zone.
It is capable of challenging humans for a spoken password and, if it does not recognize the correct password in response, shooting them with either rubber bullets or lethal ammunition.
It is an important point that, while these systems have some degree of “autonomy” relying on the technologies of AI, they are in no sense a step—not even a small step—towards “autonomy” in the sense of AGI, that is, the ability to set independent goals or intent. Indeed, the word “autonomy” conflates two quite different meanings, one relating to “freedom of will or action” (like humans, or as in AGI), and the other the much more prosaic ability to act in accordance with a possibly complex rule set based on possibly complex sensor input, as in the word “automatic”. In using a terminology like “autonomous weapons”, the DoD may, as an unintended consequence, enhance the public’s confusion on this point.
At a higher strategic level, AI is recognized by DoD as a key enabling technology in a possible Third Offset Strategy.
As briefed to JASON, key elements of a Third Offset Strategy include:
(i) autonomous learning systems, e.g., in applications that require faster-than-human reaction times; (ii) human-machine collaborative decision making; (iii) assisted human operations, especially in combat; (iv) advanced strategies for collaboration between manned and unmanned platforms; and (v) network-enabled, autonomous weapons capable of operating in future cyber and electronic warfare environments. AI, as it is currently understood as a field of “6.1” basic research, will supply enabling technologies for all of these elements. At the same time, none of these elements are dependent on future advances in AGI.
JASON is an independent scientific advisory group that provides consulting services to the U.S. government on matters of defense science and technology. It was established in 1960.
JASON typically performs most of its work during an annual summer study, and has conducted studies under contract to the Department of Defense (frequently DARPA and the U.S. Navy), the Department of Energy, the U.S. Intelligence Community, and the FBI. Approximately half of the resulting JASON reports are unclassified.