UK joins the AI arms race
Artificial Intelligence is one of the most transformative and disruptive areas of technology, “reshaping the future of global conflict” while remodelling the way businesses and governments operate.
That was the view expressed by the UK’s minister for defence procurement Jeremy Quin as he launched the Ministry of Defence’s Artificial Intelligence Strategy, which he said would “revolutionise our Armed Forces capabilities”. He also outlined plans to work with enterprise and the private sector to encourage partnerships in AI.
Quin was speaking at London’s AI Summit last month, as part of a keynote in which he explained how the UK plans to fully exploit and operationalise the power of AI for defence in the UK.
He suggested that AI is “a strategic national resource as vital now as coal was once to the industrial age”, and added that it was vital that the UK maintained its “technological edge to stay one step ahead” of adversaries, with AI among the most important.
“We shall have soldiers on the front line guarded by control devices which analyse footage from hundreds of drones in real time. We shall have autonomous resupply systems delivering kit more efficiently without putting people in danger,” he added.
UK’s Defence AI Strategy
Quin was speaking via video link as he announced that the MoD had launched the UK’s Defence Artificial Intelligence Strategy, which aims to make the MoD the “most effective, efficient, trusted and influential Defence organisation for our size” when it comes to AI.
Across the broad range of responsibilities that the MoD fulfils to deliver the UK’s national security, its aim is to adopt AI responsibly and ethically to deter and defend, save lives, reduce harm, and shape the global development of AI in line with UK values.
Quin added the Strategy was also based on three pillars: ambition, innovation, and responsibility. The MoD pledged a new head of AI profession will be created with a remit for developing a skills framework, as well as recruitment and retention offers. Specific AI career development opportunities will be created to incubate talent and bring it forward. To enhance responsibility, every leader in defence will also be taught and given a strategic understanding of AI.
A policy document on the Ambitious, Safe and Responsible use of AI, developed in partnership with the government’s Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI), was also published alongside the strategy, setting out five principles to promote the ethical development and deployment of AI by the military: human-centricity, responsibility, understanding, bias and harm mitigation, and reliability.
Private sector collaboration
Efforts will be made to ensure all areas of the MoD utilise AI capabilities, including a new modern approach to working with the private sector.
Quin told delegates at the AI Summit that the MoD will “modernise commercial processes to encourage partnerships across the AI sector”, which will include “increasing access to defence data and capabilities, including specialist computing infrastructure”.
He added that the strategy sets up plans to use AI in defence “at pace and at scale”, building on the national AI strategy published last year, “which was about transforming all areas of society, driving economic growth and getting the governance of AI right”.
In September 2021, the UK Government published its 10-year UK AI Strategy on how the UK will become an AI powerhouse over the next ten years. The Strategy represented the start of a step-change for AI in the UK, recognising the power of AI to increase resilience, productivity, growth, and innovation across the private and public sectors.
Speaking in the same session, Laurence Lee, MoD director general and second permanent secretary, reiterated the Department’s intention to work closely with the private sector to develop and deploy AI-driven technologies. He added that the UK Government intended to work closely with the private sector to also secure investment and spur innovation.
“For MoD to retain our technological edge over potential adversaries, we must partner with industry and increase the pace at which AI solutions can be adopted and deployed throughout defence,” Lee said.
“To make these partnerships a reality, MoD will establish a new Defence and National Security AI network, clearly communicating our requirements, intent, and expectations and enabling engagement at all levels. We will establish an industry engagement team in the Defence AI Center [DAIC] to enable better defence understanding and response to the AI sector. It will also promote the best and brightest talent and exchange of expertise between defence and industry.”
The DAIC will also lead on delivering an engagement and interchange function to “encourage seamless interchange between MoD, academia and the tech sector”.
Through secondments and placements, the MoD will bring in “talented AI leaders from the private sector with a remit to conduct high-risk innovation and drive cultural change; create opportunities for external experts to support policy-making; and develop schemes for Military of Defence leaders to gain tech sector experience”.
Lee showcased the ways in which the MOD is supporting the UK with world-class capability for applying artificial intelligence, data science and machine learning to defence and security challenges. With a vast array of potential applications available, from supporting decision making to streamlining back-office functions, this new strategic roll-out from the MOD is designed to support that.
Responsibility, industry collaboration and learning through use cases were also mentioned in the AI Summit Keynote by Dr Nikos Loutas, Head of Data and AI policy at NATO. Loutas said creating a responsible framework for AI, learning through use cases and industry collaboration are the key pillars of NATO’s AI strategy. “We are really convinced that ongoing and future conflicts may be won, lost or heavily impacted by AI speed, AI efficacy and who is actually using AI in the battlefield,” he added.
As much as the technology offers numerous business use cases, AI is truly transforming the world and also has the potential to change the conduct of war.
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