A Russian arms manufacturer is putting AI software in combat drones. How could this influence the future of the battlefield?
Recently, Russian arms manufacturer Kalashnikov Concern has unveiled their work on a fully automated combat machine. It looks like a drone, but the neural network that controls it allows for some autonomous ability, which is going to make for some very interesting conversation at the upcoming ARMY-2017 forum. Did somebody say war robots?
For that matter, now that neural networks are basically being weaponized, I’m sure there will be some important moral debates about their use in a field of battle. Not the least of which will be: “Isn’t this exactly what Skynet wants?”An AI with a gun? Isn't this what Skynet wants? #kalashnikov #gunbotClick To Tweet
But, and we’ve said this many times before, technology is a tool.
It isn’t inherently good or bad; that depends entirely on the intentions of the user. In this case, the technology is a weapon, but that is the purview of a military, and I think we can judge them according to their actions instead of their tech.
Plus, the robot is really freaking cool. We’d be doing it a disservice by ignoring that. Let’s take a closer look.
Kalashnikov is Making War Robots
We all know that drones are already used in combat, but this robot is no drone.
Drones require operators, and while modern drones do have elements that can acquire targets without human control, they aren’t fully autonomous. By using a neural network to control the drone, full autonomy is possible.
So far, there’s no word on whether the module will fire without human authorization. What information we do have suggests that the use of a neural network is intended to quickly acquire many targets–something well within the capabilities of modern AI technology.
But what’s a combat drone without a gun? This drone appears to be packing a number from Kalashnikov’s PK series of machine guns, possibly a 7.62mm PKTM Kalashnikov tank machine gun.
If it’s a PK machine gun, then it’ll fire a 7.62mm bullet, and with the two ammo boxes at its sides, it will have an ammo capacity of about 600 rounds.
In the featured image, you can see some controls and a monitor, but those are likely for maintenance and manual control. If you look at the top, you will see some sophisticated sensor equipment, and that will be the AI’s bread and butter. AI can be very good at target acquisition, so without advanced sensors, there’s little point in giving control of the device over to a neural network.
There is no word on how soon we may see the deployment of this new system, but that’s what the ARMY-2017 forum will be for.
Addressing the Moral Quandary
The idea of autonomous weapons is nothing new, even if their production is. But even saying war robots elicits a fear of powerlessness.
In 2015, scientists from various fields came together to draft an open letter to arms manufacturers and militaries around the world. The letter warned of a global AI arms race, one that would make neural networks “the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow”.
And that future is certainly possible, but let’s consider for a moment what AI have done in other, more peaceful areas of science. AI software isn’t just learning how to be your chauffeur, it’s learning how to diagnose patients, automate factories, and any number of amazing tasks.
Let’s face it, AI is still “dumber“–to use an inadequate term–than a human being by a wide margin, but they have talents that we don’t possess. Up to and including the ability to crunch tons of data and assess it in no time at all.
If AI have improved a human being’s ability to function in those areas, what could it do in a theater of combat? If the people waging the war are trying to avoid civilian deaths, AI could potentially mark civilian targets in the blink of an eye. That would save a lot of the lives, and it could help avoid making a decidedly bad situation even worse.
At the end of the day, we’ll have to wait and see how this technology is used. I’ll be keeping my eye on this one, folks; it has my interest piqued. As always, the very moment new information comes out, we’ll be here to tell you all about it.