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Global Military AI Development: Not Top But Secret

25 September 2018 15:36, UTC
Anna Zhygalina

The top secret autonomous weaponry development is already beginning to worry not only politicians and scientists. Now, the possible militarization of self-learning AI machines has become a number one security topic for everyone, including a completely peaceful population.

The news materials about new developments of military robots or autonomous weapon systems (AWS) of different countries often seeps, but for some reason the boom immediately subsides, as if it were the news about the new mobile application.

Marshall BARNES, internationally R&D engineer, in an exclusive interview for Bitnewstoday.com said that "The threat is not from countries but anyone with enough cash or the ingenuity to design home made AI weapons on the cheap. Still, France, China and India are several nations known to be working on the use of AI in weapons systems. There is an international effort to control and regulate the development and deployment of autonomous military weapons”.

According to the annual NATO report by 2017 the US accounted for 71.7% of the total defense spending of the countries that make up the Alliance. Compared to 2016, the total part of European allies and Canada increased by 4.8%.

At the same time, in the global context, US military spending in 2017 amounted to 35%, worth $619 billion, Saudi Arabia with spending of $228 billion took 13%, China ranked third with a share of 4% of world GDP - $69.4 billion, and Russia's spending amounted to 3.8% - $66.3 billion, stepping on China's heels.

The new US budget for 2018 for the defense industry slightly fell short of $700 billion, amounting to $674 billion. And $800 million of the budget will be allocated for underwater drones. The Pentagon has signed contracts with 23 companies to be engaged in the development and drones production. For 2019 fiscal year the US Department requested $9.6 billion for such developments, which is 28% more than a year before. And while the AI developers and moralists argue whether the use of unmanned weapons is ethical, the document "The U.S. Army Robotics and Autonomous Systems Strategy" is in open access with announce of their plans. In accordance to this plan, the government is going to create an AI infantry unit by 2025, that will perform exploration and transportation.

On 28 August, the Pentagon published a “roadmap” for the military robotics development, where there will the special attention given to neural network technology. The Defense Advanced Development Agency (DARPA) of the U.S. Department of defense has tasked Raytheon to develop a neural network that will explain its decisions. These technologies will further be applied in the mixed army. Unmanned underwater, surface, flying and ground robots will be independent partners for people with similar powers.

China's military budget, which is still in second place after the US, has also increased by 8% in 2018 comparing to the previous year and amounted to $175 billion (1.11 trillion yuan). China is actively developing the extension and production of drones. In early May China set a world record for the number of UAVs that were in the air at the same time. And by sales figures China has bypassed Germany and France long ago. Although Chinese drones “Rainbow Five” desperately resemble the American “Reaper”, the developers have produced their authentic version of drones, which in 2017 were acquired by a number of countries: Iraq, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

In August 2018, the state Rostec corporation introduced “SERP” - a system of electronic suppression of drones, which will have an option to disable the small drones at a distance of up to 20 km in dense urban areas, suppressing GPS and GLONASS signals, GSM900 and WiFi. In addition, Russia is intensively developing military equipment "Uran-9". This robot is equipped with interchangeable ammunition and would be dedicated to combat missions. Doesn`t matter that military budget of Russia reached the point of $46 billion in 2018.

South Korea is trying to keep up with the superpower governments: this May the Korean government announced the start of paramilitary robots development, explaining that by reducing population. The Agency for Defense Development (ADD) was instructed to create AI technologies in order to obtain unmanned reconnaissance vehicles by 2024, which will be able to replace 500-600 soldiers, and subsequently - to create an automatic unmanned revolver system for self-propelled howitzers K-9, which will be able to take places of about 2,000 soldiers.

Peter SCOTT, the futurist and author of books about AI, in an interview for Bitnewstoday.com said that these developments are very tangible: "We know that there are automated machine gun emplacements in the Korean demilitarized zone: the DoDAAM Super Aegis II and the Samsung Techwin SGR-A1 can detect human intrusion and open fire. The Samsung can even ask intruders for a password and recognize surrender gestures”.

The budget of South Korea, approved in August this year, indicates the serious intention of the government to invest in the defense industry: in 2019 more than $424 billion (470.5 trillion won) are going to be spent on weaponry.

Japan this year also invested a record cash - $45.7 billion for defense purposes: basically, it will be the purchase of new weapons against the backdrop of rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Together with Washington, Tokyo is developing the new interceptor missiles SM-3 Block 2, that will take the lion's share of the budget for it. Japan joined forces with India to create the military ground unmanned vehicles and military robots as a counterweight to China. In addition, the government of Japan has set a task to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to build 8 multi-purpose destroyers of the new generation with a displacement of about 3900 tons by 2022. These fleet costs will be budgeted for 2019. The main advantage of the new destroyers will be the autonomous unmanned underwater vehicles that they will be equipped by. These new vehicles with robotics will resist sea mines in order to protect the Islands adjacent to Tokyo.

Seyed SAJJADI, robotics developer and R&D of AI systems in NASA, believes that the majority of modern robotics in weaponry can be attributed to the category of traditional AI systems, and the main development is focused on the detection and reconnaissance of the situation. The expert shared with Bitnewstoday.com his opinion that the revolution of the military industry has already started, and we are at a turning point: "I believe the future of warfare will not include any humans in the battlefield but rather it will be intelligent robots working with humans trying to defend and target adversaries. I suspect, most of the AI weaponry technologies under research today, will be matured and ready for production in the next 5-10 years’.

The most important thing, according to the expert, by this time will be the question of whether to equip robots with weapons and give them the opportunity to make a decision about the life and death. Mr. SAJJADI himself, working at NASA JPL, had participated in the development of the pop-up flat folding space robot-explorer called ‘PUFFER’, which had an exclusively peaceful purpose. ‘PUFFER’ is expected to be sent for space missions with a parent robot (such as a ‘Rover’) to explore the terrain. "I believe this technology can be used in Earth’s search and rescue missions for natural disasters as well as other mass casualty or hard-to-reach incidents. The civilian applications of PUFFERs doesn’t end at search and rescue missions; it can further be extended for educational and recreational purposes”.

At the same time, the United States Navy uses this NASA technology that has been developed for Rovers, not for peaceful purposes. One of them is involved in the development of the software system CARACaS (Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing), which can be installed on small ships, turning them into autonomous unmanned vehicles. Thus, the military with the help of a portable device based on CARACaS system will be able to quickly turn aircraft, armored vehicles and boats into a single automated combat "flock".

As for the issue of the total autonomy of military equipment, the opinions are divided: for example, the United States is more actively in favor of the possibility of total freedom for AI robotics on the battlefield in terms of issues of activation of the attack and the choice of goal, while Russia leaves the last decision to the operator.

According to Mr. SAJJADI, the development of a strong AI is now more of an primal stage: “I believe we are still decades away from a strong AI which can be comparable on broad domains with the intelligence of a human; my suspicion is that by the end of this century we will have that technology”. The expert believes that the developers of cybersystems using AI, however, have not yet achieved the results they desired: “By using learnable methods, cybersecurity systems can detect anomalous behaviors they have never seen in training before an attack becomes effective. I believe, in the near future, specifically within the next 5-10 years, AI will mostly be keeping our systems safer, but in the long-run we’ll have to be more conscious about the creative approaches black-hat bots can take in hacking technologies’.

All these developments clearly show that the issues of regulation of autonomous weaponry are more than acute. And the competence of the self-learning machine to make an independent life and death decisions and the implementation of the attack, went beyond the ethics of research engineers. In the next article, we will consider attempts to regulate unmanned weaponry with the help of international law. And also we share some expert opinion of researchers and developers about the possibilities for society and global economy to develop with a totally autonomous lethal AI weaponry.