Commercial applications of artificial intelligence and robotics have been developed with decades of investment and are mature technologies either fielded or on a path to be fielded for a variety of applications that include repetitive and precise manufacturing, dull and dangerous exploration, and persistent and vigilant security. A common theme is the adoption of autonomous systems across all these applications.
Defense applications of artificial intelligence and robotics are nascent and recent Defense Science Board and Department of Defense documents speak to the challenges, gaps, and goals of incorporating autonomous systems into military operations. The key technical challenges include human-system collaboration, perception and understanding, manned and unmanned teaming, and test and evaluation.
One of the primary gaps that needs to be addressed includes the testing and life-cycle maintenance of autonomous systems that learn and adapt. Military operations are soldier-centric and the goal of autonomous systems is not to replace the soldier, but to give him another tool in his arsenal that improves his survivability and mission effectiveness. Thus, autonomous system technology developments alone will not suffice. The technologies must align with defense doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, education, personnel, and facilities.
Future defense applications of autonomous systems will address specific military needs and will combine “autonomy at rest” and “autonomy in motion.” Instances of the former include intelligence operations at a command center, and the latter, reconnaissance operations on a mobile vehicle. Consider the example of a harbor operations center that includes both autonomy at rest (manned and unmanned command centers) and autonomy in motion (an unmanned vehicle).