Hot on the heels of confirmed reports that China is getting ready to equip cruise missiles with artificial intelligence targeting capability, a “summer study” on autonomy done by the Defense Science Board shows that the U.S. has already been thinking of weaponizing artificial intelligence.

The DSB is a federal advisory committee to the U.S. Secretary of Defense, also known as SecDef, a post currently held by Ashton Carter. He is also the CEO of the United States Department of Defense.

According to the publicly available DSB study, it “offers important recommendations to identify the science, engineering, and policy problems that must be solved to permit greater operational use of autonomy across all warfighting domains.”

The 121-page report then goes on to describe detailed recommendations that address the following areas:

  • Accelerating DoD’s adoption of autonomous capabilities
  • Strengthening the operational pull for autonomy
  • Expanding the envelope of technologies available for use on DoD missions

The report also outlines various projects that the government can undertake that will utilize the power of artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics to automate several dangerous processes that are currently carried out manually, such as “offensive maritime mining” and “mine counter measure” missions.

Although the report focuses mostly on defense aspects, it is clear that the DSB is strongly recommending the use of artificial intelligence and related technologies for warfare.

Last week, we reported that China was developing cruise missiles that could pick their own targets and make course alterations using AI technology. While this new report from the DSB is in no way a response to China’s threat – because it predates the Chinese announcement – it clearly shows that artificial intelligence may now have extended application capability in the defense and offense efforts of the United States of America.

If you’re thinking of cyborgs delivering lethal payloads and smart sensor systems that activate defense countermeasures, you’ve hit the nail on the head. That’s exactly what the DSB is recommending. It also suggests ways in which media and devices confiscated from “adversaries” can provide intel on the adversaries movements and decisions.

It’s a scary thought, but the preservation of human life features heavily as an undertone throughout the document. By recommending artificial intelligence and autonomous systems, the DSB suggests some very hazardous situations that can better be handled without human intervention.

As dangerous as it sounds, artificial intelligence and autonomy of defensive and offensive could actually be a good thing. For one, fewer lives will be lost in the services; but the key factor here is that artificial intelligence research could get a big boost if the government is funding it. Current investments in the AI space are primarily made by corporates creating viable lines of business for their future. Whether it’s Apple Siri or IBM Watson, that is the primary purpose. But when the U.S. Government comes into the picture, the entire AI ecosystem will get a booster shot of steroids.

Besides, there is precedence to lend credibility to that view. Here are just a few of the military’s inventions that you and I cannot live without today.

GPS:

Global Positioning System technology is what enables the use of advanced navigation systems that we now have right in our hands – in our smartphones, cars and other connected devices. Ex-President Bill Clinton was the one who made it publicly available in 1996, before which it was restricted to military applications.

Cargo Pants:

Believe it or not, this was invented for British soldiers in the 1930s as a better way to carry ammunition. But it would not be until the 1990s that the public found them “cool” enough to start wearing as a fashion trend that has lasted for more than two decades now.

Computers:

Yes, the world’s first programmable computer, ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer), was designed and built during the late 1930s and early 1940s during World War II for ballistics research.

Microwave:

Nuking your food would have never been possible if the military hadn’t done it first! Without the discovery that the radar transmitters of World War II actually generated enough heat to cook food, we wouldn’t have microwave technology today.

Hundreds of products that we consider indispensable today originally had military applications, including the Jeep, duct tape, superglue, digital photography, silly putty, nuclear energy and believe it or not, virtual reality.

Much of our consumer world is filled with erstwhile exclusively military tech, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the DSP is urging DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to go on another tech research spree into the world of artificial intelligence.

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