March 22, 2024

Why the Pentagon wants to build thousands of easily replaceable, AI-enabled drones

Source: Vox

Journalist: Joshua Keating

Fielding fleets of drones at this scale is also likely to speed up the military’s adoption of artificial intelligence. “The only way that thousands of drones work is if you have some measure of autonomy in the drones,” said Paul Scharre, a former Defense Department official now with the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). “Because they have thousands of systems of control, then you would need thousands of people operating them, and that’s a big personnel cost for the military.”

Both sides in the Ukraine war claim to be using artificial intelligence to improve their drones’ performance. So far, any use has probably been limited, but the war has also accelerated development of these capabilities. Ukraine’s influential digital transformation minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, has described fully autonomous killer drones as a “logical and inevitable next step” in military innovation.

Scharre is among the scholars raising concerns about the risks that an autonomous weapon could inadvertently trigger an international crisis by taking some risky action that a human in the loop might have decided against. (Another worry is that the speed of future conflicts and the pace of AI innovation may create pressure to take humans out of the loop.) He told Vox that autonomous weapons systems are more difficult to test than other applications of AI, such as self-driving cars, because of the difficulty of simulating the conditions under which they will be used. “You won’t get feedback on how something works until the war happened,” he said.

Read the full story and more from VOX.


  • Paul Scharre

    Executive Vice President and Director of Studies

    Paul Scharre is the Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at CNAS. He is the award-winning author of Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence...