DARPA researchers see future wars won with hypersonics and artificial intelligence

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md — In comments that conjure up dystopian images of a future dominated by robot soldiers controlled by Skynet, researchers with the Pentagon’s futuristic think tank said they are working on better ways to merge the rapid decision making of computers with the analytical capabilities of humans.

In fact, scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects agency, or DARPA, are even looking into advanced neuroscience in hopes of one day merging computerized artificial intelligence with the human brain.

“I think the future [of] warfighting is going to look a lot more like less incredibly smart people working with more incredibly smart machines,” said DARPA Deputy Director Steve Walker during a briefing with reporters at the 2016 Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber conference here. “And how those two things come together is going to define how we move forward.”

Personnel of the 624th Operations Center, located at Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland, conduct cyber operations in support of the command and control of Air Force network operations and the joint requirements of Air Forces Cyber, the Air Force component of U.S. Cyber Command. The 624th OC is the operational arm of the 24th Air Force, and benefits from lessons learned during exercises such as Cyber Flag 13-1. (U.S. Air Force photo by William Belcher)

Personnel of the 624th Operations Center, located at Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, conduct cyber operations in support of the command and control of Air Force network operations and the joint requirements of Air Forces Cyber, the Air Force component of U.S. Cyber Command. The 624th OC is the operational arm of the 24th Air Force, and benefits from lessons learned during exercises such as Cyber Flag 13-1. (U.S. Air Force photo by William Belcher)

Walker said researchers are already finding ways to help machines better collaborate with human operators. Computers do a good job of spitting out answers, he explained, but people want to know how that machine arrived at its answer.

The so-called “Explainable AI” research program is geared toward helping a human operator have confidence in the answer the machine gives him.

“Machine, don’t just give me how correct you think the answer is, tell me how you got to that answer — explain to me the reasoning, the decision making you went through to get to that answer,” Walker described the thinking behind the project. “We’re creating more of a trust between the human and the machine and we’ve given them the ability to use machines where they make sense.”

While Walker sees more machines working with fewer troops on future battlefields, he doesn’t see a world where artificial intelligence takes over.

I don't think we will be fully autonomous ever,' Walker said. 'I don't think our morality and ethics would allow that. But I think highly autonomous warfighting is certainly in the future. Click To Tweet

Beyond advances in artificial intelligence, Walker said DARPA is investing a lot of research into so-called “hypersonic” technology, which describes vehicles that can fly between Mach 5 and Mach 10.

The X-51A Waverider is set to demonstrate hypersonic flight. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne SJY61 scramjet engine, it is designed to ride on its own shockwave and accelerate to about Mach 6. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

The X-51A Waverider is set to demonstrate hypersonic flight. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne SJY61 scramjet engine, it is designed to ride on its own shockwave and accelerate to about Mach 6. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

The Pentagon has tried various hypersonic technologies over the years, some with limited success. But DARPA is working with the Air Force to develop two weapon prototypes that Walker hopes will prove that “hypersonics will give you a much more capable, much more survivable much more effective system than we have today at some surprising ranges.”

TOP ARTICLES
SpaceX launching a third top-secret satellite

SpaceX is launching a secretive mission this month. The mission, shrouded in secrecy, has some considering it may be for the CIA or the NSA.

This is how the Air Force will use prop planes on high-tech battlefields

The Air Force is looking toward a light-attack aircraft program, known as OA-X, to produce a plane that meets its needs and gets the job done.

A retired SEAL commander on how to stop thinking and 'get after it' every day

This former Navy commander has some excellent advice on how to jump start your day, and "get some" in order to make it as productive as possible.

Marines return to battle in 'old stomping grounds'

The Marines recall their "old stomping grounds" as they return to Fallujah and the surround areas of Al Anbar Province to battle a new enemy.

How Chinese drones are set to swarm the global market

China has stepped up it's drone game, and even though United States technology can still compete, China's drones are kind of really in demand.

That time two countries' Special Forces squared off in combat

In an area the size of the Falkland Islands, British and Argentine special operators were bound to run into each other at some point – a lot.

5 times pilots got in trouble for having fun in the sky

When pilots decide to do some fancy flying in their high-performance fighters, it can land them in trouble once they're back on the ground.

This is why Nazis dubbed these paratroopers 'devils in baggy pants'

"American paratroopers – devils in baggy pants – are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can’t sleep at night," wrote one German commander.

9 ISIS weapon fails that you have to see to believe

Many bad guys just want record themselves laying rounds down range for social media purposes — and we're glad they did. Laugh away, America!

US Army recruitment campaigns, ranked from worst to best

Advertising can really impact recruitment for the military. For better or for worse, here are some of the Army's most memorable slogans...