Far from the front, AI is starting to prove its military value

by Braxton Taylor

Artificial intelligence has been in the spotlight lately, and not always for good reasons. The Federal Trade Commission recently tightened up rules regarding the use of AI and its uncanny ability to mimic real people’s voices and likenesses, which scammers are reportedly already using to ensnare victims. There is also concern about how AI could harm the integrity of the pending presidential election, with one incident already recorded during the New Hampshire primary, where an AI-generated voice of President Joe Biden was used to spread misinformation to thousands of potential voters across the state.

In the military, concerns over the maturity of AI technology are competing in some ways with the recently updated DOD AI Adoption Strategy, which calls for AI to be added everywhere within DOD where its use can provide an advantage over potential adversaries. The challenge is figuring out where AI can provide those advantages without an associated risk, which is often harder than it seems. For example, adding AI to large-scale military training simulations and wargames seems like a perfect application for the technology, but experts warn that doing so comes with quite a few potential dangers.

For now, the military is cautiously moving forward with AI integrations. But there are a few areas where these efforts, even if they are far from the frontlines, are starting to prove their value.

Aiming true with an AI assist

While large scale wargaming against AI opponents is still being worked out, the Human Performance Training Center at Fort Carson, Colorado is already using the technology to help individual soldiers become more proficient with their shooting, battlefield awareness and decision making. According to the Army, members of the 10th Special Forces Airborne Group — Green Berets — recently completed a training course at the facility where AI was used to provide an increasing level of challenge based on each soldier’s preceding performance.

Previously, the training at Fort Carson was done with the Army’s legacy Engagement Skills Trainer program, which displays various videos on a large screen and then records a trainee’s actions using special weapons that fire lasers at targets. The training has been in use for years and has proven to be effective, but the scenarios presented are normally static so that repeatedly going through them adds little additional value.

The new training, provided through a program called VirTia Military Training, looks more like a video game, where the scenarios can be designed to maximize specific skills. In addition to just combat shooting, the new training includes different types of drills, such as situations where there may be innocent people or civilians in the field who should not be harmed.

“This allows us to pair marksmanship with a variety of different training environments where they are coupled with a strength coach to simulate physical stress,” said cognitive performance specialist, Jake Blumberg, who oversaw the training.

In addition to using physical exercises to heighten a soldier’s heart rate before the training, an AI watched over everything that happened during each scenario and evaluated each participant’s responses. The AI was then tasked with modifying the scenarios to increase the challenge level during future runs if soldiers passed them too easily, or to assist trainees with specific skills where they needed more focused help.

The Army AI wants you

Over in the United Kingdom, one of the biggest challenges their armed forces are facing today is recruiting enough young people to join their ranks. There are lots of reasons for the recruitment shortfall, but one of them is, surprisingly, the length of time it takes to actually induct someone into service, even if they are ready to join up right away. 

The UK recently consolidated its armed forces recruiting efforts so that, regardless of which service someone wants to join, they go through the same process. That has resulted in bottlenecks, and long waits of up to five months for the entire approval process. By the time the armed forces get around to even letting a young person know if they can join up or not, almost half a year has passed since the potential recruit first walked into a recruiting center, and many of them have already moved on to other jobs or simply changed their minds.

One of the biggest factors behind the delay is getting medical approvals. According to the British Ministry of Defense, the medical paperwork that must be studied for a single recruit can be up to 100 pages or more. And there are other records which also need to be considered, with many of them existing in varied formats, including everything from hand-written notes to email and voicemails. One solution that is being tested to open up the bottleneck is to employ AI to help speed up the approvals process.

In this case, the AI is not being tasked with directly evaluating if a recruit is able to serve or not, which would likely raise a bunch of new issues, but instead is being tasked with streamlining the backend paperwork for humans in the decision-making process. Under a new system designed by the Capita consulting firm, a potential new recruit’s records, in almost any format, can now be presented to an AI that will examine them for accuracy before placing everything into a unified, searchable format.  

According to a spokesperson from Capita, “Face-to-face contact and engagement with serving personnel will always be at the heart of Army recruitment, but there are parts of the process which have become quicker, simpler and more effective through the use of artificial intelligence technology.”

AI will continue to make military inroads

The DOD AI Adoption Strategy all but ensures that AI will continue to find more uses within the military. And while military officials wrestle with ways to safely add AI to more controversial areas, such as giving it some authority over decisions with potentially lethal consequences, for now the technology is already starting to prove itself in peripheral areas like recruitment and training. Its success in those areas may be the beachhead that AI needs in order to prove that the technology is ready for greater deployments and increased responsibilities throughout the military.

John Breeden II is an award-winning journalist and reviewer with over 20 years of experience covering technology. He is the CEO of the Tech Writers Bureau, a group that creates technological thought leadership content for organizations of all sizes. Twitter: @LabGuys



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