By Girish Linganna
Defence experts, research groups, and powerful global political leaders are all batting for extensive use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the defence sector. Reports suggest that both Russia and Ukraine have been using AI in the ongoing war. On top of it, America’s defence department has announced that it is studying Russia’s war tactics in Ukraine using AI and machine-learning tools.
While interacting with a group of students, Russian President Vladimir Putin (2017) predicted that whichever country leads in AI research will dominate global affairs. He said that AI is the future, and not only for Russia but for all humanity. But what he further said is more relevant to the present situation. He has said AI comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Yes. His prediction is partially true now; AI is creating threats. If AI-driven machines have bombarded Ukraine and also mindlessly targeted civilians, then Vladimir has ensured that his fear doesn’t remain just that.
Ukraine, which was working hard to become the IT hub of Europe before the war, has claimed that it has used facial recognition software, Clearview AI, to identify the Russian defence personnel who have breathed their last in Ukraine and keep the information posted to the families. There is a separate ministry headed by Vice-Prime Minister Mykailo Fedorov, for effecting digital transformation in that country.
Clearview AI is an American facial recognition company, and it is offering services only for law enforcement usage. The company voluntarily offered its search tool to Ukraine. In a month, the company created more than 200 accounts for users at five Ukrainian government agencies to conduct searches for face recognition. Now it is an app in Ukrainian. It has become easier for Ukraine to headcount the dead as well as find the details of suspects. No one in a war field like Ukraine bothers about the negatives of using such software, which invades the privacy of individuals and also sometimes leads to negative narratives.
The Pentagon has claimed that it is using AI and machine-learning tools to oversee and analyse the Ukrainian battlefield. Defence experts have been saying that a huge database is being created which will help in foreseeing Russia’s moves and thwarting attacks. The US says it is gathering intelligence about Russia’s war tactics and strategy. Drones with AI tools are used to gather footage, senior scientists have said. The US, with all its might, failed to avert or stop the war. But it is making use of AI to learn to prepare itself better to face possible threats in the future.
Eventually, it will be the technology that defines wargames. Way back in 2017, the US defence department launched Project Maven, also known as the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team. China has expressed its ambition to emerge as the global leader in AI research by 2030.
It has been reported that Ukraine used a drone to track Russian troops, gather intelligence and attack a target. Ukraine was found using drones by the US and Turkey to not just gather intelligence but also to attack the Russian military and ammunition.
No doubt, Putin is right in saying that AI dictates the fast growth of a country. But his country is not topping the list of nations in terms of AI advancements. A study conducted by the Brookings Institution, a more than a century-old American research group, says that China tops the list, followed by the US, UK, Canada, and then Russia. Now the question is, where does India stand on the list? India figures in the top 10 nations’ list. It is outside the top 10 in terms of commercial and research initiatives in AI. It ranks sixth in terms of spending and investments on AI in digital space used by initiatives of the government as well as public and private.
According to a report by McKinsey Analytics in December 2021, India was the leading adopter of AI among emerging economies, from a commercial and business point of view. A Deloitte report from the same period said the Indian retail industry was adopting AI extensively. This was followed by the telecom and financial technology sectors.
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In India, a frequently discussed topic is whether the defence wings have been able to adapt to AI and new generation technologies in terms of hardware and software. India’s strength is its technical manpower. But its drawback is paltry funds for research and development. India wants to become the next AI superpower. But to reach the goal, it has to cross many miles.
In 2019, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh stated that AI and robotics can help India prepare for future challenges. In 2018, the Ministry of Defence set up a task force for the implementation of AI. In the next year, the Ministry established a Defence AI Council (DAIC) to exploit AI in defence and roping in private entrepreneurs to fast-track the growth.
India is making strides to produce AI-based unmanned drones for image recognition and image stitching. Earlier, the country was dependent on Israel for its drones. But now it is focusing on the indigenous system.
In 2021, the Central government notified new rules for drone technologies. The rules have been termed industry-friendly for adopting the technology. It is reported that the Indian military has been using drones for surveillance at the Line of Actual Control, demarking the controlled territory between India and China.
The SWITCH drone is the first indigenously produced drone that the Indian Army began using in 2021 for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. The army conducted a drone swarm technology demonstration on January 15, 2021, in New Delhi. Indigenously designed and manufactured, 75 drones were in the skies simulating a raft of missions, including offensive operations. In all, AI-driven 76 Tapas-BH-201 drones developed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) are scheduled to be inducted into the armed forces by 2023.
India is now witnessing a boom in private investment in the drone manufacturing field. Some Indian companies have entered into joint ventures with global OEMs to manufacture UAVs in India, like the JV between Adani Defence & Aerospace and Israel’s Elbit Systems. The Indian company has announced that it is manufacturing multi-rotor low-altitude VTOL UAVs – Skylark, and Sky Strike – for tactical loitering munitions and they would be joining the Indian armed forces.
The increased focus and push on drone manufacturing and usage are sure to help India become self-reliant. However, many questions are not being addressed. Are there sound rules in place to ensure that AI-powered machines only hit the set goals or targets? Definitely not. Human intelligence is not a replacement for AI. It can only imitate humans. Unlike humans, AI-based machines have no emotions or intuitive or think strategically, or judge a situation and make decisions accordingly.
It is not impossible to weaponize armed forces with AI-controlled machines. But controlling lethal attacks on non-targeted areas in a war field cannot be ruled out because they are either programmed to perform a function or human-controlled. The question of discretion doesn’t arise for AI machines.
There are already protests against the use of AI in the defence sector. In 2018, nearly 3,000 Google employees petitioned for the company’s involvement with the US Department of Defence AI project that studies imagery. The employees had expressed concerns that the US military could weaponize AI and use it to design drone strikes and other sorts of lethal attacks under Project Maven. They insisted that Google should not be in the business of war. However, the company’s involvement was non-offensive, was the argument by a spokesman.
Without a doubt, AI technology has enormous potential for improving business, economies, medical research, and data management. At the same time it can be used in warfare. Cyber weapons are the latest arms to fight conflicts. There are chances of cost-effective drones attacking not just the enemy but even innocent civilians in a conflict zone. If not controlled properly, it can create havoc. AI superiority should not be the defining factor for a country’s supremacy. Global spending on robotics and intelligent process automation and AI automation is increasing steadily. India’s Drone Shakti project is meant to encourage start-ups to come up with various types of applications for drones. But what is missing is a clear policy of using AI-driven machines by defence wings. The policy, if any, is not made public. This is the bane of all advanced countries which are boasting of adopting high-end technology in the defence field.
Most importantly, India is not discussing patenting its indigenous technology in the AI field. There are no research studies that can throw light on the growth of AI applications and precautions being taken if any.
(Author is Aerospace & Defence Expert. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).