A panel of technical and political experts said Tuesday that the Navy is thinking about artificial intelligence in two ways: infrastructure to make unmanned systems work, and technology meant to enhance how seafarers and their commanders make decisions.
Speaking at the US Naval Institute on Tuesday, Brett Vaughan, the Navy’s head of AI, said the outputs provided by AI exist to help humans or supplement manned operations with unmanned assets. Human will always be in the loop and play a major role.
“Overall, AI exists to augment and provide a range of options and recommendations for the human decision-maker,” Vaughan said.
This does not mean that there are not some decisions that the AI system can make, he said. Vaughan said there are situations with unmanned ships, such as going around a seamount, that AI can do without the need for a human.
“It just shows you when we’re talking about offloading or delegating decisions, there’s a graduated scale that we need to be aware of, that has to show up in your calculus,” Vaughan said. “This is where the human or client, warrior, sailor, marine perspective helps design code and capability.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Gruen, former director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, said the Pentagon’s goal of AI is to use it to achieve a competitive advantage.
“How do we gain a competitive advantage against China, against any of our other opponents and be able to work with pace and precision,” Gruen said. “And that’s the real core of what we’re trying to build here today.”
At the moment, in the Defense Department, this looks like pattern recognition and algorithms, for example, that can help simplify operations or decisions.
As an early operational application, AI is key to the Navy’s ongoing testing of unmanned ships in the Middle East, Commander of the US Fifth Fleet Vice Admiral Brad Cooper He said last week.
“They will see everything that goes by, they will take a picture of it. And then they will map with AI – the lifestyle of everything around them as far as they can see. And then when something is different, they will take a picture of it every second, you will send it back to Naval command center. Then the human makes a decision,” he said last week at the Coast Guard Academy.
He said that civilians and the military are already accustomed to using artificial intelligence. Take cars as an example. Artificial intelligence algorithms help the car monitor fuel levels or tire pressure. Same with navigation apps that are set to show how much traffic is on the road or where one can stop for a coffee.
For the military, AI can help present commanders with additional opportunities or dangers, just as navigation apps might suggest a different route depending on traffic.
Vaughan’s office never starts with AI, it looks at the problem or challenge first and then brings in AI to help address it, if AI is the right tool required. He currently oversees about 1,000 projects related to artificial intelligence.
He said the use of artificial intelligence would require the Navy to recalibrate how it did its business.
It differs from building hardware like ships, in that they are built, and go out and back in for repair. AI requires constant monitoring and verification to ensure that the system is working properly.
The United States is not the only country looking to use artificial intelligence with its military. Both China and Russia are already using AI, said Sam Tangredy, professor of national, naval, and naval strategy at the US Naval War College.
He said China said it wanted to be a leader in AI, something they can achieve because the country wants to use AI for various reasons.
They want it for social control, for the control of the people by the Chinese Communist Party. “Big incentives to spend a lot of money on it,” Tangredi said.
He said Russia is looking to use artificial intelligence for autonomy so that it can complement its power.
On the other hand, Tangredy said, the United States is focused on keeping people in the loop.
The Chinese are adept at human surveillance, Gruen said, but the question is whether Beijing can turn that into a combat capability. China has also been interested in artificial intelligence as a tool for commanders on the battlefield as a counter to US operations in the Western Pacific, USNI News reported last year.
“It is essential to assist battlefield command by creating a war system that can accurately reflect reality to train an AI system that can handle distributed mortality,” the China Naval Design and Research Institute (MARIC) reads for 2020.
Gruen said that how well the Chinese implement their goals is still an open question
“Can they innovate? And then can we innovate faster?” he said. “Can we innovate enough and organize ourselves enough that we actually have the project that can fight effectively against a largely organized rather than innovative opponent?”