How Old U-2 Spy Planes Are Now Getting an AI Upgrade
For the first time in history, an AI-enabled computer algorithm operated onboard a military aircraft while in flight, coordinating navigational details, sensor information, and reconnaissance missions alongside a human pilot.
For the first time in history, an artificial-intelligence-enabled computer algorithm operated onboard a military aircraft while in flight, coordinating navigational details, sensor information, and reconnaissance missions alongside a human pilot.
The AI algorithm, called ARTUu, flew along with a human pilot on a U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane, performing tasks that would “otherwise be done by a pilot,” a U.S. Air Force report explained.
It is described as manned-unmanned teaming, or human-machine interface, a process intended to optimize the best of how computers and humans can perform. The human-computer team flew a reconnaissance mission during a simulated missile strike.
“ARTUu’s primary responsibility was finding enemy launchers while the pilot was on the lookout for threatening aircraft, both sharing the U-2’s radar,” the Air Force report said.
The combination represents the cutting edge or prevailing thinking regarding how best to leverage the benefits and promises of AI; given rapid advances in processing speed and AI-capable algorithms able to perform real-time analytics on fast arriving volumes of new information, computers are of course much faster and more efficient, in an exponential way, when it comes to performing crucial procedural functions.
“Putting AI safely in command of a U.S. military system for the first time ushers in a new age of human-machine teaming and algorithmic competition. Failing to realize AI’s full potential will mean ceding decision advantage to our adversaries.” Air Force Acquisition Executive William Roper said in the Air Force report.
Multiple data streams can be simultaneously gathered, pooled and organized in milliseconds, bounced off a known database of seemingly limitless volume to make comparisons, perform analyses and solve problems. Data compilation, organization and analysis, coupled with increasingly unprecedented computer processing speeds, can enable AI-empowered technology to discern critical distinctions and similarities between otherwise completely separated sources of incoming information, offering humans a previously impossible integrated picture.
At the same time, human cognition remains uniquely positioned to address certain nuances less calculable by mathematically-oriented computer programs. Many kinds of fast-changing dynamics, particularly those involving concepts or more subjectively determined variables, are at least at the moment best left to humans. For instance, to what extent could a computer discern “feelings” or “intent” as they may pertain to a combat engagement. Perhaps a pilot gets scared and makes an abrupt, unanticipated move? Perhaps a number of conflicting or different circumstances merge together into what might seem like a confusing mess? Can even the best AI-capable algorithms make sense of all of these kinds of phenomena? Particularly as they collide with one another? Many of these kinds of more subjective challenges, according to the best expert assessments of progress with AI, are still much better off addressed by humans.
Therefore, given that AI-empowered computing and subjective human cognition seems to possess distinct, discernable advantages, the best tactical approach to combat may be simply to leverage the best of each and combine them together. That is exactly what the Air Force is seeking to accomplish, an optimal blend of man-machine characteristics collectively able to maximize performance capability.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.
Wikimedia Commons: U.S. Air Force