As with many other fields of scientific study, the military has picked up on the use of Artificial Intelligence. The possibilities of military use of AI are boundless, exciting, intimidating, and frightening. While today's military robots are used mainly to find roadside bombs, search caves, and act as armed sentries, they have the potential to do so much more.
Not all military uses of AI directly relate to the battlefield however; it can use Artificial Intelligence for more passive purposes as well. For example, the military has developed a computer game that uses AI to teach new recruits how to speak Arabic. The program requires soldiers to complete game missions during which they must be able to understand and speak the language. This system gives the soldiers a more realistic, easy, and effective way to learn the new tongue. This particular game works by using speech recognition technology that evaluates the soldier's words and detects common errors. It can then create a model of the soldier, keeping track of what he's learned and what he hasn't in order to provide individualized feedback for the soldier's specific problems. Those who are working on this project believe that it will change the face of all language learning and similar programs will become mainstream sometime in the near future.
The military is also trying to create automated vehicles — the ultimate autopilot. Machines already have the ability to see the world around them and read a map, theoretically well enough to be able to drive from point to point without human assistance. However, when the Pentagon first sponsored a competition for prototype-automated vehicles in the Mojave Desert in 2004 to test their resilience against difficult terrain, none of the fifteen entries crossed the finish line. The following year, a car built by students at Stanford University completed the 131 mile course in six hours and 53 minutes. The car completed the race without any human input, using only onboard computers and sensors to navigate terrain meant to mimic combat conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though this proved that great strides had been made in one year alone, even more are needed before the technology can be marketed and put to real use.
According to the Pentagon, actual robotic soldiers powered by Artificial Intelligence will be a major fighting force in the American army, probably within the next decade. The first robot soldiers will actually be remote-controlled vehicles. The military has poured tens of billions of dollars into this project already. Congress wants to see this happen, and they ordered that a third of all military vehicles and deep-strike aircraft be automated by 2010.
As the machines begin to think, see, and react more like humans, the level of their autonomy and our level of trust in them will grow as well. However, it is predicted that a true soldier-simulating robot will not come about for another 30 years. These robots need to be able to determine friend from foe and enemy from bystander, and teaching them to do so will require a tremendous amount of research and work. The government has assured us however that these robotic soldiers will not be put into the field and allowed to make such decisions until they are ready to do so.
Another current infantry prototype knows how to recognize an enemy when it is under fire. When this happens, it can react to enemy fire on its own or follow orders given to it from a remote observer. Although it's programmed to work autonomously, in its present state, it still requires some set of outside monitoring controls in order for it to work. Its designers plan to have it usable for infantry missions by 2015.
Another one of their prototypes nearly realizes the anthropomorphic goal imagined by Isaac Asimov in his I, Robot book. This prototype is a machine about four feet high with a Cyclops eye and a gun for a right arm. It is programmed to perform basic hunting and killing tasks. It can actually find valid targets on its own and can shoot at them with remarkable accuracy.
The list of benefits of using machines to achieve military goals is long and significant. The immediate and most evident boon of such technology is the elimination of human risk: machines, not humans, would be lost in battle. In addition, specialized robots can be designed to accomplish specific tasks more effectively than humans can, increasing the military's overall effectiveness. They are also more cost-effective. Robots will always be able to do what they were designed to do and can be recycled when they are obsolete. A human soldier costs on average $4 million dollars over his lifetime, and the U.S. Pentagon cannot obtain the money to pay all of them. Robots could cost a tenth of that amount or less.
Although the ultimate goal of the robot soldier is to completely eliminate human risk, even the experts say that war will always be a human endeavor involving human loss of life, no matter how much the AI warrior is developed. New ethical questions will arise once we have the ability to invade countries without risk of bloodshed on the part of the invader. And even though these robotic developments will soon be on our doorstep, it’s a little frightening to see that the only ones who are addressing the issue of use and or misuse of such technology are the scientists and the authors of science-fiction.