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“How to adopt civilian technology in a military context? “

“The military is only capable of real innovation in the event of war. At home, it is never so much a problem of innovation as of adoption of innovation “(Photo: Reaper drone with GBU-12 remote-controlled laser bombs, in Niger, 2019). Malaury Buis / AP

Tribune. A large part of the technologies from which we benefit draws its origin from military research: mobile, GPS, Internet, nuclear. But with artificial intelligence (AI), the reverse is true, according to the US DoD (Department of Defense). He must, for the first time, buy, like everyone else, his “high-tech” military technology from commercial companies which do not especially wish to sell it to him.

A report from the United States Congress (“Artificial Intelligence and National Security”, Congressional Research Service, November 21, 2019) sets out the scale of the dilemma: how to adopt civilian technology in a military context? Sometimes this is obvious, like predictive maintenance by AI and big data in civil aviation, applicable to military aircraft. On the other hand, the civilian technology of autonomous vehicles, developed for marked roads, with reliable GPS data, precise maps, is no longer worth anything for operations on a battlefield, with generalized jamming.

Civilian AI performance, reliability and security are not what you would expect in the military. Lives are at stake. The changing operating environment makes AI algorithms less reliable if their training data ignores them.

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As a buyer, the United States Department of Defense does not have a good reputation, we read in this report: twelve commercial companies decided to never do business with the DoD by pointing out the complexity of the purchasing procedures , the instability of allocated budgets, the contractual conditions imposed by the American government, which often wants to benefit without restriction from intellectual property. Intellectual property is vital for the profitability of a high-tech company.

China and Russia are not waiting

Internal AI expertise is lacking at the DoD: salaries and research funding are lower. Another thing: high-tech workers feel invested in the mission to change the world and they will do it much better, they believe, outside of government circles.

There are also anti-AI cultural factors: do we really want, at DoD, to bet everything on a virtual battlefield, while the entire military tradition rests on the “hard”, the hardware and on the field missions ? In other countries, culturally committed to the concept of bravery and courage, it will not be easy for AI to gain a place in the military. That said, with this commercial democratization of the AI, retaining a decisive military advantage is long gone. For fear of losing it, a state could decide to use it immediately without delay, contrary to the very principle of deterrence (when the possession of a weapon makes its use unnecessary).

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