Military Use of Artificial Intelligence

The United States military has a long tradition of embracing new technologies. The Wright brothers built airplanes for the U.S. Army. The U.S. Navy commissioned the first motorized submarine. One of the most influential scientific endeavors in history, the Manhattan Project, was a military operation. Military adoption of new technology continues to this day.

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History of Military Technology

Mankind has long found military uses for emerging technologies. Advances in carpentry, metalworking and electronics have been adapted for military purposes. Tools originally designed for hunting were drafted into military use. History has shown that the army with the better technology has a decided advantage over its rivals. While it is no guarantee of victory, better weapons can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of conflict.


The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (originally just ARPA) came into being in 1958 as a reaction to the launch of Sputnik. DARPA operates under the Department of Defense but is also separate from the branches' R&D departments. DARPA, while still answering to the Secretary of Defense, pursued areas of interest that were more extreme than the individual branches--that is the "Advanced" portion of the name. Some of the advances DARPA was instrumental in helping to make include stealth technology and the precursor to the internet, the ARPANET.

History of A.I.

Research into artificial intelligence was happening as far back as the early 1960s. Two of the organizations investing in this early work were DARPA and the Office of Naval Research. The iterations of artificial intelligence permeate our culture from voice recognition systems to banking software searching for credit card fraud.

Military AI

Some current uses of artificial intelligence by the military include systems in non-combat roles. DART, a planning tool, utilized A.I. and was used in Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Training simulators are being developed that incorporate A.I. The U.S. Air Force is working with private industry to develop systems for faster collection and examination of information. The goal is to improve reaction and decision-making time to implement more effective military actions. Like many of the military's uses of A.I., it involves information management and decision making.

Ethical Concerns

Some have raised concerns about the role of A.I. in warfare. Using these systems for support and managerial roles is one thing but having non-human combatants is another. Professor Noel Sharkey, of the University of Sheffield, discusses the potential problems of mechanical warriors. He said robots could not fulfill two basic tenants of warfare. One is the ability to discern between friend and foe, which is sometimes difficult for humans to do themselves during modern warfare. The other tenant is that of proportionality. This is the decision about the amount of force considered reasonable in a given situation. Another concern is that humans could be moved from the position of decision making to that of monitoring decisions made by computers.

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