Artificial intelligence makes its way to the battlefield

Artificial intelligence makes its way to the battlefield

Felix Kim

Top military officers of the Republic of Korea (ROK) soon will be using artificial intelligence (AI) to make command decisions. The ROK Ministry of National Defense (MND) is developing an AI system to be operational by 2025 that will advise commanders on the details of North Korean military operations, Yonhap News Agency reported.

“Commanders make various decisions, and they have to do so quickly and precisely considering various factors and variables,” said Choi Myoung-jin, professor of defense science and technology at Howon University in South Korea. “The new system aims at supporting such a process through an advanced [internet] technology. For example, if you put information and data in it, such as the location, scale and infiltration routes of an enemy and even weather conditions, the system suggests a few options that commanders can choose from.”

Choi compared MND’s planned AI system to AlphaGo, a computer program developed by Google that plays Go, a board game popular in many Asian countries. AlphaGo recently became the first nonhuman player to defeat a professional human Go player. (Pictured: South Korean professional Go player Lee Se-Dol, right, watches Google DeepMind’s lead programmer Aja Huang during the last Google DeepMind Challenge in March 2016 in Seoul, South Korea.)
“Like AlphaGo,” Choi said, “the system can use an algorithm to find and collect necessary information to suggest the best option based on knowledge previously learned.”

Yonhap reported that AI soon will be a “core assistant” to commanders, alerting them to possibilities that otherwise might escape human attention. In addition to details about the logistics, weapons and movements of North Korean forces, the AI system will digest data about weather patterns, landscape and about South Korea’s military forces to supply predictive analyses of possible engagements.

“The development begins with the construction of a database,” Choi said. “Then, putting more information and data into it is followed continuously in order to enhance its credibility. An algorithm that allows machine learning is also used, like in the development of AlphaGo. But what’s critical here is the system needs to understand the unique characteristics of the military and national defense in the process of analyzing, learning and reasoning while avoiding errors.”
Once perfected, the system will provide commanders with more agility in dealing with unexpected situations, Choi said.

The use of AI by ROK’s military has been going on for some time, Choi explained, citing computer simulations used this year at the Ulchi Freedom Guardian Exercise. The exercise, held jointly by the Armed Forces of the ROK and United States each year since 1976, consists of drills involving tens of thousands of troops to prepare for a possible engagement with North Korea.

Another example of AI being employed by ROK’s military is the IT systems that guide unmanned aerial vehicles used in surveillance, Choi added. They enable the drones to “cope with unexpected situations and accidental variables.” Choi dispelled fears that AI could make human commanders obsolete.

“Of course, final decisions will be made by commanders, and the system will only assist them to make the best decision in a shorter period of time,” he said. “The success of the system largely depends on how much data and information can be given and how much the system can learn from it.”