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TERMINATOR? - AI will battle a human in a chilling, simulated air-to-air dogfight next week - and you can watch it happen

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Artificial intelligence will do battle against a human pilot in a chilling competition.

Next week, on August 18, teams of researchers will compete to see whose artificial intelligence program is the deadliest in air-to-air fighter combat. The winning team's AI will compete against a human pilot on August 20. 


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A pair of F-15 and F-16 'aggressor' fighter jets fly in formation. Aggressor aircraft simulate enemy air forces during pilot training exercises.

A pair of F-15 and F-16 "aggressor" fighter jets fly in formation. Aggressor aircraft simulate enemy air forces during pilot training exercises.

Highlights

By Marshall Connolly (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
8/10/2020 (1 month ago)

Published in Technology

Keywords: AI, dogfight, DARPA, air-to-air, combat, fighter, jets, simulated

LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - The weakest component of modern fighter jet design is the pilot. Made of muscle and bone, the "meat" component is vulnerable to distraction, g-forces, requires oxygen to breathe, and is capable of bleeding and suffering. The human component may also suffer from moral conundrums and compassion which could reduce deadliness in some situations. The solution to this weakness is to replace the human pilot with an artificial intelligence that is capable of thinking like a human, but has none of the physical, or moral limitations of a human person. 

To this end, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing an Artificial Intelligence (AI) that can pilot a fighter plane as well, if not better than a human being. It's a staple of science fiction, dating back decades. But now, the dilemmas of Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, (released on film in 1969, directed by Stanley Kubrick) or 2005's "Stealth," are becoming a real matter for the experts. Perhaps the most remarkable entertainment franchise to deal with the ethical question of automating weaponry was the Terminator franchise. The original Star Trek franchise also dealt with this conundrum in the 1967 episode, "A Taste of Armageddon."  

The premise of these shows is that an artificial intelligence is developed to make life-and-death decisions. When algorithms determine human fate, what could go wrong? 

We may soon find out. On August 18, a slate of eight teams, whom have all developed competing AI systems for dogfighting, (dogfighting is the term used to describe combat between fighter aircraft) will compete to determine whose AI is the best. The winning AI will go on to compete against a human pilot on August 20. 

You can register to watch the action here online. Not everyone is welcome to watch. All who want to watch must register in advance, and non-U.S. citizens must register before August 11, 2020. 

Just as the cautionary tale of "John Henry, the Steel Driving Man" has warned, machines are coming to replace people. In many cases, this has made life better for all. Surely, nobody wants to drive steel by hand, return to the days of the horse-drawn buggy, or typewriters. But how far is too far? 

In the 1990's, the idea of drone aircraft was considered radical, yet imminent. By the end of the decade it was revealed the United States was deploying drone aircraft to spy on, and later attack, enemies around the globe. However, these aircraft were controlled by humans by remote means. Their existence was unsettling to many, but acceptable because of their necessary human component. 

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Now the time is close when human pilots may be replaced.

The present emphasis is to develop drones capable as flying alongside human pilots as "wingmen" (think: helpers) who can protect the human pilot from being destroyed. They can fly ahead, test enemy defenses, detect the enemy first, and provide the pilot with advantages and capabilities in combat. Clearly, it is only a matter of time before the human pilot is moved from the cockpit to a bunker. And how long after will aircraft be controlled by AI? 

Artificial intelligence already helps pilot civilian aircraft, and computerized simulators, such as Digital Combat Simulator, offer human players a decent challenge for fun. But how long before these early, rudimentary software-based systems become the deciders of life and death for actual humans? 

On August 20, we may get a better idea. 


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