The Future of War Requires Private Tech

The military needs to buy the best to expand AI/ML capabilities

Artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) are widely hailed as the twin harbingers of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a reshaping of all aspects of society through the proliferation of next-generation technologies.

More deeply felt than the influence of manufacturing, fintech, or the energy sector, however, will be the role of these twin forces in the modern battlespace. How the military utilizes big data from surveillance footage and battlefield communications to continuously evolve its capabilities will be the defining feature of the defense sphere in the coming era.

Increasing AI/ML capabilities is already an essential priority in the military’s strategy to counter its adversaries in an age marked by renewed great power conflict. Particularly so in the ever-increasing arena of remote and autonomous vehicles.

AI/ML is vital to expanding virtually every drone capacity, regardless of whether that drone be remote or autonomous. And though the combat role of robots is hotly disputed in terms of ethics, the proliferation of autonomous surveillance platforms and handheld drone swarms for the purposes of augmenting soldiers’ situational awareness is constantly increasing.

The centrality of AI/ML to the military’s strategy is based in the sheer immensity of data that remote and autonomous platforms collect. Common, commercially available drones in the US in can ramp up 10 gigs of data during a 15-minute flight. Military drone-based surveillance systems, on the other hand, capture as much as 274 terabytes of information in a day.

Moreover, these technologies require their own hardware to operate, and the amount of data in need of indexing and incorporating is constantly increasing due to improved efficiencies. An effort to use decentralized hierarchies of drone swarms to gather data, for example, cut 80 percent of the time required for the same task as the older method of using one drone as a centralized learner.

The scale of data being handled is a key reason for the military’s frequent appeals to the private sector to develop better technologies to organize and integrate big data to improve battlefield awareness and control. Time and again, however, major companies such as Google have reneged on their government contracts for “ethical” reasons while actively fulfilling similar obligations to foreign adversaries such as China.

Enter Anduril, a hardware and software company specializing in developing and deploying specialized products for national defense. Moreover, a company that prototypes on its own dime rather than that of the military.

If the name Anduril reminds you of another national security staple, that’s likely because it shares a funding source, and numerous executives, with Palantir, the company providing cutting edge technologies to counter-terrorism units throughout the nation.

Anduril is developing AI-based and drone-deployed surveillance systems that can “soak” an area with information, relay that information to incoming troops, and then autonomously disengage from the conflict zone.

The systems operate on Anduril’s Lattice infrastructure, described as “an AI backbone that uses computer vision, machine learning and mesh networking to fuse real-time data into a single, autonomous operating picture.”

Anduril’s hype, and its claim that its “partners start receiving actionable intelligence within minutes of activation,” appears to be well enough founded. With clients in the Air Force, Marines, USNORTHCOM, and the Royal Navy, Anduril’s track record is growing by the day.

By leveraging the efforts of companies such as Anduril and Palantir to militarize consumer technologies at their own expense before purchasing, the military can greatly improve the efficiency of money spent without sacrificing the efficacy of its capabilities. Indeed, in the struggle to carve out a favorable balance of power in the landscape of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the military ought to be contracting the talents of such organizations at every opportunity.

AI/ML is changing the world and the battlespace. The US’ superpower status will invariably falter without proper investment in both. It’s time for the Pentagon to recognize where the talent and the patriotism is in these fields and to buy accordingly.

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