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Artificial Intelligence and Defense

The narrative in the media (and Science Fiction, the medium in which we learn about a possible future), is that of Artificial Intelligence turning against humanity in an epic apocalyptic showdown. AI is not going to gain “consciousness” anytime soon but an AI arms race to create and control AI is certainly happening between powerful nations. On the heels of the United States’s most forward thinking agency, DARPA’s recent coverage in the media, we’ll cover some of the applications that AI is being used in defense. We suggest you put everything you’ve seen on Netflix aside and let the team at Interfor share with you some of the emerging trends we see coming down the pike in Artificial Intelligence and defense.

Despite the controversy between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg about the threat of AI gaining consciousness (and if that is even possible) weaponized AI is a threat in the hands of rogue states and bad state-sponsored actors. While the threat of a breakout AI similar to the Terminator movies is just that, a sci-fi movie, weaponized AI that aggressive powers like China might use directed towards potential targets could be a serious threat. A pre-programmed algorithm powered drone sent to eliminate a target can not make a moral decision if a civilian appears next to its target. What are the costs/benefits if the civilian is killed? This is a decidedly human decision-making process, not a decision an algorithm can feel.

Democracies such as the United States, Japan, and France are still on the forefront of this technological frontier, but China is pouring endless resources in order to bridge that gap, and it is quickly catching up.


Drones have been in active use in conflict zones since the 1990’s but as AI technology has improved drones have been some of the first delivery systems to integrate these new technologies. Drones will continue to play a greater role in warfare, augmenting special defense forces units, as the technology already exists with computer vision enabling drones to track a target (and eliminate it if necessary). There is still time before we see the widespread use of drones commercially. However there has been a marked uptick in drone usage in the fields of agriculture and security. Similar to driverless cars, there are legislative and social factors at play in which people need to feel comfortable with the sight of drones flying over them all day.


One of the biggest challenges the military, alongside corporations and any institution that is collecting data have is how to make sense of all the data. With the number of ways to collect data only increasing such as by camera, IoT enabled devices, bio metric scanners, online tracking, etc., (ex., the number of IoT devices is set to balloon to 30 billion by 2020) AI is playing a major part in making sense of all of this. The skill in the future will not be in collecting data, but in seeing the story, and predicting the trends. Warfare has always been about anticipating an enemy’s move, and in this case it will be about separating the signal from the noise. AI’s advantage over humans is that it can organize and generate insights in ways the human mind can not, but still requires human oversight to make the final analysis of the data collected.

The world is changing rapidly, technologies that would have taken a considerable amount of time to come to market, and that would impact us, are moving along faster than they have in the past. While there is a lot of fear around all this tech, especially as the media and sci-fi movies like to sell us, the reality is that the truth falls somewhere in the middle. We’re here at Interfor to help you make sense of all that is happening today as we enter 2019 and a braver new world.