The final round of the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Alfa dogfight trials took place on August 20. The trials aimed to “demonstrate advanced AI (artificial intelligence) algorithms capable of performing simulated within-visual-range air combat manoeuvring, colloquially known as a dogfight.” Eight teams participated in the event, and the winning team, Heron Systems, squared off against a top
F-16 pilot. The AI pilot won 5-0.
Although the simulation was a simple one-on-one scenario and did not imply that AI is ready to replace pilots, it demonstrated that an AI agent could effectively learn and successfully apply basic fighter manoeuvres. A DARPA official said, “This was a crucible that lets us now begin teaming humans with machines… where we hope to demonstrate a collaborative relationship with an AI agent handling tactical tasks like dogfighting while the onboard pilot focuses on higher-level strategy as a battle manager supervising multiple airborne platforms.”
Technology has always played a crucial role in warfighting and the character of war. However, some sceptics state that the impact of technology is overrated. They point out the failure of a network-centric US military to defeat the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is a similar discussion in India on how far technology can overcome the challenges posed by the terrain along the Himalayan watershed or in areas like Siachen.
There is no doubt that the quality of human resource, levels of training, motivation, and human ingenuity will be major war-winning factors. But we must also recognise that today, technology is having a more transformative impact on the world than ever before. Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, in his book The Fourth Industrial Revolution, writes that the most critical challenge today is to understand the “speed and breadth” of the technology revolution. Many of the emerging technology breakthroughs are in their infancy but are “already reaching an inflection point in their development as they build on and amplify each other in a fusion of technologies across the physical, digital and biological worlds.”
We are yet to grasp all the implications of this new revolution fully, but it is clear that emerging technologies, while empowering individuals and societies, are also disrupting traditional models of business, governance, and even social interaction.