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    An 'Edge' in Future Battles: UK Testing Out New AI Warfare Technology

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    Despite a withering military establishment beset by chronic government spending cuts and personnel shortages, the UK armed forces are fighting hard to keep up with the leaps and bounds being made in artificial intelligence (AI) battlefield technology.

    The UK has reportedly been successful in testing a cutting edge autonomous weapon that utilizes AI to scan the battlefield for enemy combatant movements.

    According to London's Ministry of Defence (MOD), the equipment — being touted as state of the art 'space age' technology — has the ability to sweepingly scan streets and alleyways — no matter how big or small — to detect enemy forces in built up urban environments. This panoramic eye in the sky will, according to the MOD, give British forces an "edge" in any future urban warfare.

    READ MORE: Unlocked and Unloaded: The Top Crises Facing Britain's Crumbling Military Today

    Furthermore, the MOD insists, the technology, known as 'SAPIENT,' will reduce the margin of human era for British forces when it comes to distinguishing between enemy combatants and civilians, who, despite being immunized from attack under international law, are often killed in war zones.

    SAPIENT was tested out by Canadian soldiers recently in a mock combat zone in Montreal along with a range of other upcoming military technologies, including robotic 'exoskeleton suits,' which are wearable machines with limb movement that military industrialists hope will increase battlefield speed, strength and endurance when worn by a human soldier. Some are touting these suits as 'the soldiers of the future.'

    The incumbent Minister for Defence Procurement, Stuart Andrew, is widely quoted as saying of SAPIENT that, "this technology can scan streets for enemy movements so troops can be ready for combat with quicker, more reliable information on attackers hiding around the corner. Investing millions in advanced technology like this will give us the edge in future battles."

    READ MORE: Warfare Will Be Revolutionized: UN Debates Autonomous Weapons, Many Call for Ban

    It is apparent that SAPIENT's technology has been, and will continue to be shared with the forces of the so-called 'Five Eyes' allied nations, which in addition to the UK, consist of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

    According to reports, from November, British forces are slated to begin testing other autonomous weaponry, including armed aircraft and vehicles.





    Only the Latest Effort to Bolster UK Military Technology 

    SAPIENT is but the latest drive on the part of the UK military establishment to bolster its capabilities in the realm of AI warfare technologies.

    Back in June 2018, it was revealed that the British army had successfully tested out what it described as a "social media" app, which would, allegedly, increase troop battlefield efficiency.

    The software, which goes by the rather turgid name of, 'Dismounted Situational Awareness Tool,' is a multipurpose package uploaded to Samsung mobile phones and contains intelligence and battlefield mapping that can reportedly detect enemy proximity. 

    READ MORE: South Korean University Draws Boycott From AI Experts Over 'Killer Robots'

    Yet, the drive for AI battlefield technology has aroused the concerns of some experts. Back in August 2017, over 100 robotics and artificial intelligence pioneers, including billionaire Elon Musk, wrote an open letter to the United Nations urging for a ban on autonomous weapons systems in an effort to curb a new arms race. In the open letter, the experts cautioned against what they saw as the harbinger of a "third revolution in warfare" following the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

    ​"These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways…Once this Pandora's box is opened, it will be hard to close," the signatories prophesied.

    ​Despite those calls, and even during the same month, the British government categorically refused to sign up to any pre-emptive ban on autonomous weapons systems, including 'killer robots.' 

    An MOD spokesmen was widely quoted as trying to extinguish concerns by saying that, "it's right that our weapons are operated by real people capable of making complex decisions and, even as they become increasingly high-tech, they will always be under human control."

    Yet, debates about the ethics of employing AI in the battlefield rage on, with even a senior head in Britain's army, General Mark Carleton-Smith, being widely quoted as saying that such technology is moving us into a "darkening geopolitical picture."   

    READ MORE: Rights Group Calls for Adopting Int’l Law on AI in Autonomous Weapons​ 

    Tags:
    AI, Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, UK Ministry of Defence, United Kingdom
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