How A.I. will shape the future of defence?

Main takeaways:  

• Artificial Intelligence (A.I) is transforming several dimensions of warfare, including intelligence gathering and analysis, strategic and operational planning, procurement and logistics
• There is increasing competition in the international arena regarding A.I., with countries aiming to develop technologies that give them military advantage
• The security and defence sector should prepare to leverage the innovation in information technology coming from the commercial sector. This not only concerns the technological dimension, but also the organizational and doctrinal changes required to maintain the competitive military advantage

On 24 June 2021 YPFP Brussels hosted an event on “How A.I. will shape the future of defence?”. The panel was moderated by Matteo Tomasina, YPFP Security & Defence Officer, with two guest speakers: Dr. Andrea Gilli, Senior Researcher at the NATO Defence College, and Steven Gillard, NATO Director at The Boeing Company. The event discussed the impact of the introduction of Artificial Intelligence (A.I) technologies in the security and defence sector, including the ways in which the race to A.I. is currently shaping international competition.

Dr. Gilli opened the event by presenting a general introduction on Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and its main implications for international politics and security. He described the two main approaches to the development of A.I.: the “symbolist”, aiming to develop a software code that would mimic the function of the human brain with a top-down approach, and the “connectivist”, based on software that learns patterns from data. The current wave of A.I. development is mainly based on the latter approach – this is why the current conversations about A.I focus on “machine learning” or “deep learning” that are based on big amounts of data. To understand what this means for international politics and security, Dr. Gilli went on to describe what he defines as the “A.I. triad”:

Dr. Gilli concluded his presentation by describing some of the challenges and the constraints the current A.I. revolution is facing:

Mr. Gillard described how Boeing, as a leading defence and aerospace company, views the opportunities presented by digital transformation. Previously Boeing had focused on ‘what’ it had built for its customers. In the digital era it is concentrating on the ‘how’. By this it means that a whole suite of digital tools (digital engineering, digital manufacturing, open architectures, etc.) are enabling Boeing to deliver innovation to customers at a faster pace and at lower cost than has previously been possible. Boeing’s ability to leverage digital innovation to break traditional aircraft development cost and time cycles has been demonstrated with the T-7A Red Hawk trainer; the MQ-25 Stingray autonomous tanker and the F-15EX. For Boeing, the key is not focusing on one particular digital technology, but creating an open digital culture and architecture that enables new technologies to be rapidly inserted into new and existing platforms. A key point Mr. Gillard made was that the ability to move faster is here now. Collectively industry and Government need to work together to create a culture where requirements setters and contracting officers understand the art of the possible in this new paradigm.

The second part of the event was a Q&A with the participants, which addressed topics such as the competition between emerging power and the West, ethical implications of A.I. and sustainability.

Written by Matteo Tomasina, Security and Defence Officer, YPFP Brussels.