• Students at the Naval War College are told that broad adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) will be the key to future operational success. (U.S. Navy photo)
     Students at the Naval War College are told that broad adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) will be the key to future operational success. (U.S. Navy photo)

Navy Students Told to Plunge Into Artificial Intelligence

December 13, 2019
By Robert K. Ackerman
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The director of the Joint AI Center cites its importance to the future military.


Students and faculty at the Naval War College should begin “diving in” to artificial intelligence (AI), said the director of the Defense Department’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, USAF, declared, “We need far more national security professionals who understand what this technology can do or, equally important, what it cannot do,” according to Navy officials.

Speaking to an assembly at the war college, Gen. Shanahan added, “On the other side of the equation, we desperately need more people who grasp the societal implications of the new technology, who are capable of looking at this new data-driven world through geopolitical, international relations, humanitarian and even philosophical lenses.”

The general emphasized to the students that China is poised to use AI to leapfrog over current U.S. technological advantages. The Asian rival views AI as a military revolution “on par with mechanization from the internal combustion engine,” adding that the middle kingdom is “sprinting” to incorporate AI into every corner of its military.

A future scenario in which China has a fully AI-enabled military force and the United States does not “brings us an unacceptably high risk of failure—because of the speed of the fight in the future, which we have not been prepared for as a result of fighting in the Middle East for 20-some years,” he said. “That, to me, is the best stark example of why we have to move in this direction.”

Adapting AI to the U.S. military will be a multigenerational task requiring both urgency and patience. But, the United States must commit to it without hesitation.

“If I have learned anything over the past three years, it’s that there’s a chasm between thinking, writing and talking about AI and doing it,” the general said. “There is no substitute whatsoever for rolling up one’s sleeves and diving in an AI project.”

Gen. Shanahan, who is a 1996 graduate of the Naval War College’s College of Naval Command and Staff, told the students that they are there to “think strategy, the strategic and societal implications of using emerging and disruptive technology.” But considering research on practical applications of AI might be just as vital.

“It’s the thinking about grand strategy and technology together that may be as important to the future of operating concepts as anything else,” he declared.

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