The race for technological superiority in warfare, strategising and even planning processes is inexorably drawing in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics as a factor into the equation. The two, AI and robotics, are winexorably linked as the former governs the functioning of the latter. Leading military powers of the world have been moving ahead with the development of these systems and India cannot afford to remain behind.
AI systems do not require human input. At present, there is a significant shift towards Autonomous Weapon Systems(AWS) that are now completely self-contained weapons platforms .They have not yet reached the stage of ‘battle robots’ but autonomous gun platforms, and unmanned ground platforms as well as unmanned naval – surface and subsurface platforms – are all under varying stages of development. These may not necessarily revolutionise warfare but may dramatically reduce risks to human personnel.
Against this background, it was a matter of great significance that Defence Minister Rajnath Singh launched 75 newly-developed AI products/technologies during the first-ever ‘AI in Defence’ (AIDef) symposium and exhibition, organised by the Ministry of Defence, in New Delhi on July 11.
The products, launched as part of ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ celebrations, fall under various domains. These include AI Platform Automation; Autonomous/Unmanned/Robotics systems; BlockChain-based Automation; Command, Control, Communication, Computer & Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance; Cyber Security; Human Behavioural Analysis; Intelligent Monitoring Systems; Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems; Logistics and Supply Chain Management, Operational Data Analytics; Manufacturing and Maintenance; Simulators/Test Equipment and speech/voice analysis using Natural Language Processing.
Three AI products developed by the defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs) having dual use applications and good market potential, namely AI-enabled Voice Transcription/ Analysis software developed by Bharat Electronics Limited; Driver Fatigue Monitoring System developed by Bharat Earth Movers Limited and AI-enabled evaluation of Welding defects in X-rays of Non-destructive Testing developed by Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, were screened during the event.
Rajnath Singh called upon all the defence stakeholders to enhance the jointness of human consciousness and the ability of AI to bring a radical change in the sector. “When there has been full human participation in wars, new autonomous weapons/systems have been developed with the help of AI applications. They can destroy enemy establishments without human control. AI-enabled military devices are capable of handling large amounts of data efficiently. It is also proving to be very helpful in training the soldiers. In the coming times, Augmented and Virtual Reality technologies will also be used effectively,” he said.
The minister appreciated that MoD, armed forces, DRDO, DPSUs and the Industry are making meaningful efforts to provide innovative and indigenous AI solutions for defence and are developing futuristic technologies. He echoed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of developing AI-enabled and AI-led applications to ensure social welfare and national security and making India a ‘Global Hub for AI’. The Defence Minister asserted that weapons/systems are being developed keeping in mind the crucial role AI can play in future warfare.
“We have started incorporation of AI applications in remote piloted, unmanned aerial vehicles etc. There is a need to move further in this direction so that we can develop autonomous weapon systems. Timely infusion of technologies like AI & Big Data in the defence sector is of utmost importance, so that we are not left behind the technological curve and are able to take maximum advantage of technology for our services,” he said. One cannot agree with him more.
However, while the development of AI, robotics and the consequent development of Autonomous Weapons Systems and AI-assisted planning and management of battlefields is nearer to fruition, there remain increasing concerns about the level of checks and balances and control necessary to ensure adequate human input into any decision that would involve the use of lethal force. This is a debate that is ongoing and while science and technology is forging ahead in the development of these potentially game-changing systems, the need for considered human oversight is increasingly important.
It is heartening that the Modi Government is cognizant of this issue. No wonder why Rajnath Singh emphasised on the need to think about humanity and world peace along with one’s own defence and security.
“There is a need to think about the ethics of AI and its potential dangers at an early stage. Whenever a new technology is introduced, it takes time for the society to adapt to it. In this transition period, a challenging situation sometimes arises. Since AI is a technology that brings about a massive change, we have to be prepared in advance for any legal, ethical, political and economic challenges. We should look at the future of AI with a positive attitude, but remain prepared as well. We have to use this technology for the welfare, development and peace of humanity. We must work towards ensuring its democratic use,” he rightly pointed out.