May 21, 2018

As AI Begins to Reshape Defense, Here’s How Europe Can Keep Up

By Jim Townsend and Wendy R. Anderson

Change comes hard in much of Europe, particularly in the defense community. But no less than in the United States, European nations are wrestling with the implications of machine learning and artificial intelligence — in the military as well as civilian society. During several trips to Europe in the last six months, we have noted a significant uptick in the number of NATOpolitical and military leaders discussing AI’s impact on the alliance’s military capability.

There seems to be a two-speed discussion going on. European defense industry officials we talked to had no qualms about harnessing AI to reduce manufacturing costs and improve customer satisfaction. But governments and institutions like NATOand the EU were having a harder time. Will AI’s impact on society — say, in data privacy — be feared and, hence, regulated? Can it be “purchased” for national defense or domestic use, and how much would this cost a tight-fisted government? Could it, perhaps, simply be ignored?

One problem we observed during our trips is that "AI” means different things to different people in Europe, just as it does in the U.S. During one of many dinners with journalists and business leaders in Brussels, it was variously described to us by the attendees as “hoovering up personal data” from across Europe or as the “secret sauce” or as “magic dust.” And while all agreed that harnessing it was not a simple matter of “buying three boxes of AI,” there was little consensus on how governments and institutions could or should integrate this new technology.


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