The question of whether a computer can think is no more as interesting as the question of whether a submarine can swim. Warfare and technology are inseparable. Throughout the history of warfare, whenever technological breakthrough occurred, it took weaponry into another phase. In qualitative terms, the evolution of weaponry has faced three major technological breakthroughs. In the ancient times, traditional weapons like sword, bows and arrows were considered to be the most advanced weapons in the field of warfare. In pre-medieval times, the invention of gunpowder in China had revolutionized the weaponry that changed the rules of games in toto. In modern times, the invention of nuclear weapons made the weaponry invincible. And in post-modern times, artificial intelligence is about to bring cognition in weaponry. For once weaponry develops its own cognition, the age of controlled weaponry by homo-sapiens will be a tale of the past.
For rational understanding of the subject, intelligibility about the nuances of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and weaponry is essential. Some fundamental questions in the realm of AI and their connection to weaponry should be addressed. What is AI? How is it developing the cognitive capabilities of weaponry? What are the major elements of cognition of weaponry? How and why will it change the domains, ranges and form of warfare? What could be the possible relationship between cognitive weaponry and humans? What would be the future of warfare?
As human intelligence is the mother of AI, it is important to understand the concept of human intelligence.
Generally, AI is the capability of a computer system to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition and decision-making. But there is lack of consensus among the experts of AI as it is inherently oversimplified. Thus, the concept of intelligence is open to debate. Arguably according to this definition, a house thermostat is intelligent as it can easily perceive and adjust the temperature. It is totally different from cognitive weaponry or autonomous weaponry whereby any UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) first selects target and then engages in the task without any meaningful aid of human intelligence.
As human intelligence is the mother of AI, it is important to understand the concept of human intelligence. The sequence of human intelligence is trifold: perception, cognition and action. Perception involves how humans perceive something, cognition means brainstorming of what to do and how to do, and action is the doing of tasks based on former steps. AI works on a similar pattern in which computer senses and perceives the world on the basis of database/information.
Three elements constitute the development of the cognition process of weaponry: thinking, detection and action. The behavior pattern of machines or weaponry is dependent on database and computational skills of computers. M. L. Cummings describes four computational skills which form machine behavior. These are skills-based behavior, rule-based behavior, knowledge-based behavior and expert-based behavior. In simple words, the thinking ability of machines is dependent on the database and the detection capability of machines is directly proportional to these four behaviors while action is the ultimate product. This process is different from machine learning or deep learning with unit distinction which is absolute or independent cognition. This is so because the ability of machines determines whether they are able to update and upgrade databases without human aid. If machines acquire this particular cognitive feature, it could be the end of human era as Claude Shannon says, ‘I visualize a time when we will be to robots what dogs are to humans.’
Currently most of the military systems are not fully autonomous. They are either automated or teleoperated and few of them are semi-autonomous. All UAVs are autonomous to the extent of navigation. Autonomous weaponry is on the stage of research and development in the US, People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the EU. Fully autonomous weaponry is facing two major barriers. One is a huge economic cost and the other are ethical concerns. American-manufactured F-22 is considered a stealthier and lethal jet in the world which has an hourly economic cost equaling $68,346. Due to this huge economic cost, the production was stopped for some time and now it is under redesigning with its central feature being AI.
This process is different from machine learning or deep learning with unit distinction which is absolute or independent cognition. This is so because the ability of machines determines whether they are able to update and upgrade databases without human aid. If machines acquire this particular cognitive feature, it could be the end of human era as Claude Shannon says, ‘I visualize a time when we will be to robots what dogs are to humans.’
The US and PRC are modernizing their weaponry and entire military systems. They are also trying to incorporate features of AI to develop fully-autonomous weaponry. For instance, PRC has brought modernization in all fields of military in order to deter the US specifically in the Pacific region. However, they are still facing both qualitative and quantitative threats as more than 60 per cent of American naval forces are present in the Pacific Ocean. In recent past, PRC tried to develop new military doctrines like A2 (Anti-Access)/AD (Area-Denial) coupled with C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) for its defense. Nonetheless, the US has its parallel of ASB (Air-Sea Battle). Hence, China needs a leap in this regard and this leap is solitarily possible with AI.
Both the PRC and the US are struggling for AI supremacy. For once AI becomes the brain of machines, the era of autonomous weapon system will engulf the entire field of warfare including land, sea, air, information, cyber, robotics and perhaps homo-sapiens. All fields (land, naval, airborne and space) of warfare including stealth capabilities, first strike, second strike and massive retaliation rationales, mutually assured destruction (MAD), nuclear doctrines, mini nukes and tactical nukes, strategic limitations and strategic leverages, submarines and aircraft carriers, guns and bullets, and jets and tanks will transcend into another age of killer robots, cyborgs, hypersonic, drone swarms, cloud computing and machine cognition. Nature, form, domains and ranges of warfare will be turned upside down.
For once AI becomes the brain of machines, the era of autonomous weapon system will engulf the entire field of warfare including land, sea, air, information, cyber, robotics and perhaps homo-sapiens.
Truth be told and suspense be unfolded, intelligence of autonomous weaponry will be the replica of human intelligence in near future with two chief distinctions. One will be speed and other will be computation of perception, cognition and action. On the basis these two distinctions, intelligence of autonomous weaponry will be light-years ahead from human intelligence in every field and form. Possibly, modern weaponry will turn into museum pieces. Homo-sapiens, perhaps may become the relic of past.
Khaqan Ahmad has done M.Phil in International Relations from the National Defense University, Islamabad. His areas of expertise are Indo-Pacific region, Middle East, European Affairs, International Political economy, Foreign Policy of USA, China and Russia, Philosophy, Theories of IR and Artificial Intelligence. Currently, he is working as a Research Associate at the CSCR.