03:26 GMT25 October 2020
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    Jack Shanahan, the head of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Centre, underscored last week that even though the use of AI is currently limited, the coming decades may see machines and humans working together in what he said would make a “big difference”.

    The US Air Force (USAF) has announced plans to pit an advanced unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) against a piloted plane in an aerial match-up that is slated for 2021.

    The goal is to pave the way for using artificial intelligence (AI) to conduct flights of unmanned combat fighter jets in the future.

    Lt Gen Jack Shanahan, the head of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Centre, has already touted the USAF’s decision as a “bold, bold idea”.

    Speaking at a briefing organised by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies late last week, Shanahan said that in May, he discussed the project with the leader of the team dealing with the aerial match-up-related issues.

    US MQ-9 Reaper drone in flight
    © Photo : US Air Force / Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson
    US MQ-9 Reaper drone in flight

    Shanahan added that during the 2021 test, the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) will try to field “an autonomous system to go up against a human, manned system in some sort of air-to-air”.

    Steve Rogers, the team leader for the AFRL project, for his part, in a recent interview with the news outlet Inside Defence praised the human pilots who will encounter the drone as “the really good ones” with “a couple thousand hours of experience”.

    At the same time, he also wondered what would happen if he “can augment their ability with a system that can have literally millions of hours of training time”.

    “[…] How can I make myself a tactical autopilot so in an air-to-air fight, this system could help make decisions on a timeline that humans can’t even begin to think about?” Rogers asked when referring to the upcoming match-up.


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