Wars of None: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Conflict

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Wars of None: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Conflict

Dr. Can Kasapoğlu, Director, EDAM Security and Defense Studies Program

Barış Kırdemir, M.Phil., EDAM – Bosch Cyber Fellow

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Hundreds of millions of years ago, during the Paleozoic era, Planet Earth witnessed the most intense and incredible burst of evolution that sparked off an immense bio-diversity including the emergence of vertebrates to which humans belong. This period is called the Cambrian Explosion. Today, we use the Cambrian Explosion analogy to depict what AI and robotics are about to accomplish, namely, bringing a new ecosystem to the world.
  • In essence, artificial intelligence and robotics resemble many characteristics of nature, and ‘life’ in its biological meaning. Machine-learning, especially artificial neural networks, mimic the human brain to a certain extent. Advances in computational neuroscience and cognitive neuroscience continue to enable new technological leaps such as human-machine teaming and increased levels of autonomy in military systems.
  • Any sci-fi fashion future warfare scene, in which AI-controlled killer robots fight each other in organized formations using networked-centric concept of operations, would be inspired by the evolutionary biological roots of swarming living things that could be found in nature.
  • Large-scale applications still require substantial investment. However, reaching vast amounts of data is now easier. Besides, the costs of cutting-edge machine learning engines and computing power are decreasing. High-tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft offer their infrastructure and software engines to many other users. Cooperation between academia and industry, along with the ongoing scientific momentum, offer lucrative funding opportunities for entrepreneurs. In result, almost on a daily basis, artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms are solving task-specific problems that were unsolvable before.
  • The US, at present, remains the leading power in the AI-driven geopolitical competition, while China is emerging as an aspirant challenger. Russia, as yet, has not managed to be a part of the top tier in artificial intelligence, autonomy, and robotics. However, the Putin administration pays utmost importance to gaining a know how, since the Kremlin considers AI to be the focal point of the next great power competition.
  • Network-centric warfare of the 21st century is centered on an unprecedented connectivity between and within the three categorical battlefields – physical, informational, and cognitive – which, all together, build complex battle-spaces. Each battlefield has different interactions with AI-enabled applications. Combination of AI and robotics is likely to cause a drastic shift in the characteristic of armed conflicts.
  • One should not confuse a lethal autonomous military system with a sole, lone-wolf type killer machine. On the contrary, these systems are the products of the age of network-centric warfare. Thus, an AI-driven, warfighting robot would act as a part of a larger force under a unified C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) architecture.
  • Future air warfare and air power will center on information dominance through a network of air, space, and cyber-space based sensors augmented by contributions across all domains of the battle-space. AI-based technologies will manifest their revolutionary skills mostly in the 6th generation aircraft, which remains a concept at present. Next generation aircraft, which will probably be optionally-manned, will operate alongside with their autonomous unmanned wingmen, and be able to launch drone swarms and carry directed energy weapons.
  • AI-enabled systems are likely to be weaponized and used in the cyberspace for both defensive and offensive purposes. For the time being, its implications for the strategic balance of power are yet to be fully understood.
  • NATO nations will need to adapt to the AI-driven transformation and reach a level of consensus. AI is likely to cause major economic and workforce shifts. More critically, it can change how the geopolitical competition is played out. It will also equip authoritarian states, some of which are NATO nations’ current and future competitors, with new oppressive and discriminatory tools. Besides, AI can offer increasingly smart autonomous weapons systems to state and non-state actors.

 

This research has been made possible by funding obtained from the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) for the project “New Perspectives on Shared Security: NATO’s Next 70 Years”.

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