Artificial Intelligence: Defense Secretary Esper Warns AI Could Transform The Battlefield

September 11, 2020 | Artificial Intelligence, News

A country that masters AI could gain a huge tactical advantage over its adversaries.

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper was speaking at the virtual Joint Artificial Intelligence Center symposium. In his speech, he stressed the need for the U.S. to maintain its lead in Artificial Intelligence, as well as to harness the technology within an ethical framework. (U.S. Dept Of Defense)

“Once in a generation technology” could change the balance of power

“History informs us that those who are first to harness once-in-a-generation technologies often have a decisive advantage on the battlefield for years to come,” the secretary said. “I experienced this firsthand during Operation Desert Storm, when the United States’ military’s smart bombs, stealth aircraft, and satellite-enabled GPS helped decimate Iraqi forces and their Soviet equipment.”

Esper said AI as a technology was in “a league of its own,” and that it could transform nearly every aspect of the battlefield.

“That is why we cannot afford to cede the high ground to revisionist powers intent on bending, breaking, or reshaping international rules and norms in their favor — to the collective detriment of others.”

Russia and China shaping up to be AI-powered military competitors

Esper recalled Russia’s use of “a sophisticated and well-coordinated combination of unmanned aerial vehicles, cyberattacks, and artillery barrages to inflict severe damage on Ukrainian forces.”

He warned that Russia was now developing AI-enabled autonomous systems for deployment across its military organization. He added that he expected Russia to deploy these capabilities in military engagements in the future.

Regarding China, Esper said the country was “constructing a 21st-century surveillance state designed to wield unprecedented control over its own people,” and one that could censor dissent in real-time.

In the context of China’s well-advertised plans to become the AI world leader by 2030, he said the country would apply the “leapfrog technology” to its military arsenal.

The U.S. as the vanguard of global ethics in AI

In contrast to China and Russia, the US will ensure that its development of AI as technology would protect the US Constitution and the rights of all Americans.

“U.S. officials would like to see allies and partners adopt the standards of individual liberty, democracy, human rights, and respect for the rule of law,” Esper said.

He added that for AI the DoD would implement rigorous standards for testing and fielding capabilities and the highest ethical expectations.

“Technology may constantly change, but our commitment to our core values does not.”

Related Story:  The Pentagon Adopts Five AI Principles

Image credit: Dr. Esper, Defense Secretary – US DoD                                                  

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