DROP ZONE: The Rise of the Machines

Estimated time to read: 2 minutes

By Prichard Keely

Excerpt: Although the machines have not taken over, swarms offer a solution to the problem of accessing contested areas and destroying challenging target sets.

Justifying the default system serves a soothing function. It’s an emotional painkiller: If the world is supposed to be this way, we don’t need to be dissatisfied with it. But acquiescence also robs us of the moral outrage to stand against injustice and the creative will to consider alternative ways that the world could work. 

— Adam Grant, Originals, 2016

Although in the short run it is easy for defense professionals to accept the status quo built by previous generations, we can no longer afford to accept the assumptions of a bygone era. The Central Blue highlights in a recent article how bold leadership at lower levels can shape the way strategy is developed and the force evolves. As the history of airpower is testament to, at the advent of extraordinary technological change, innovation will always come from the lowest levels birthed through its mother: necessity. The development of autonomy and human-machine teaming is no different.

Last fall we featured a series of articles written by Nick Helms addressing how autonomy fits in the modern force.  Next week OTH will publish an article that examines another growing feature of the autonomy discussion — swarms. The father of artificial intelligence (AI), Alan Turing, said, “It seems probable that once the machine thinking method had started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers. They would be able to converse with each other to sharpen their wits. At some stage therefore, we should have to expect the machines to take control.” Although the machines have not taken over, they offer a solution to the problem of accessing contested areas and destroying challenging target sets. Please join OTH next week as we start an intellectual epidemic to electrify the AI discussion.

OTH’s first article next week, Applications of Autonomy: Swarming, provides a framework for shaping the development of swarming weapons to enable future effects. Caitlin Thorn challenges the assumption of US technological superiority “as the speed of technological advancement continues to increase at an alarming pace.” The article seeks to address the key barriers to the implementation of swarming: design, process, and policy.

Later in the week, Marcus McNabb provides insight into the required facets of swarming in his article Swarming Intelligence: Concept to Reality. Diving deeper into the details of this complex topic, Marcus provides suggestions to optimize the swarm through effective communication and efficient information management.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

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