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The changing face of defence

Next month sees DSEi, one of the world’s biggest defence and security shows, returning to the UK.

Held at the ExCel arena in London’s docklands on the 10-13 September it looks to connect governments, national armed forces, industry leaders and the defence supply chain.

It takes place during a period of profound change with a growing number of countries investing in AI and machine learning and developing programmes to support advanced weapons systems.

The US, China, Russia, France and the UK are investing billions in these technologies, and the commercial opportunities for the likes of Oracle, IBM, Google and SAP are huge.

The scope of AI and machine learning and their application by the military is far broader than simply ‘killer robots’ or autonomous weapons, yet the military application of these technologies is critical and there is certainly a big push towards the development of technologies that will better protect servicemen and place machines, rather than personnel, in the front line.

While AI weapons are a stark reality, many of the deployments involve uses of the tech in automated diagnostics, defensive cybersecurity and hardware maintenance assistance.

AI and machine learning are opening up new opportunities for the military too and playing an increasingly important role in new forms of warfare – such as psychological in the form of fake news and the spread of miss-information.

The use of AI brings serious ethical concerns and calls for civilian over-sight of AI research. There are also calls for more open research and dialogue between nations due to fears that unregulated AI could ultimately lead to an international arms race.

The US has suggested that there needs to be a thoughtful and more human centric approach to the use if AI in the military, and that’s an approach that should be welcomed.

Yet discussion around the use of AI is complicated. Is it ethical not to use AI if you could save lives or shorten a conflict and if, as a country, you face an enemy with AI capabilities shouldn’t you be looking to match those capabilities?

The very nature of warfare is changing and will only accelerate as this technology becomes ever more pervasive.

Neil Tyler

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