Artificial intelligence and soldiers of the future

By Anthony C. LoBaido

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SILICON VALLEY, CA. – Have you ever considered dedicating your life to humanity’s official “Church of Artificial Intelligence”?

Take a look at the First Church of AI. Beginning 1,700 to 2,000 years ago, what would become the Vatican began to emerge. It spanned the globe and divided the Earth between Spain and Portugal via the Treaty of Tordesillas. It featured its own bank and works of art that still astound the imagination. Its supreme ruler, the pope, was (and still is) protected by mercenaries known as the Swiss Guards. With that in mind, what will the Church of AI look like in 2,000 years, or even 200 or 20? Such a church will surely feature a priesthood of philosophical and technocratic elites, along with a Praetorian Guard – the so-called “super soldiers.”

Just who and/or what are these “super soldiers?” Films like “Universal Soldier,” starring the highly profitable Jean-Claude Van Damme, and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” have offered a glimpse of human-cyborg augmentation. Chris Carter and “The X-Files” touched upon “super soldiers” toward the latter part of the series in its first incarnation. The Atlantic fleshes the issue out here. Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Dave Shrunk published an insightful piece in Military Review, and the PDF can be deconstructed here. CNN ran a short segment on the “Iron Man” film archetype to be worn by a legion of real life Tony Starks – take a look. This video segment explains how the soldiers of the future will individually carry the firepower of an Abrams tank, feature cloaking and stealth capabilities, and so much more.

The U.K. Daily Mail explains how these soldiers will run with Olympic speed and won’t require food or sleep. Combat injuries will be healed through gene manipulation. Limbs will actually be regrown. Read about it here. The moral and strategic architecture of the “should we build super soldiers?” debate is complicated by the fact that America’s peer competitors China and Russia are feverishly working on “enhanced human operations,” or EHOs, that “terrify the Pentagon.”

Popular Mechanics delves into the issue here, explaining:

“At a press conference [explaining] the Defense Department’s future research and development strategy, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work warned that America would soon lose its military competitive advantage if it does not pursue technologies … employing artificial intelligence. Says Work, ‘EHOs entail modifying the body and the brain itself, creating what some have called super soldiers. Now our adversaries, quite frankly, are pursuing enhanced human operations, and it scares the crap out of us.'”

Some are already asking if creating super humans is “the next arms race.” Read about it here.

If this is indeed the case, then when did it all begin? One might point to Mary Shelley’s epic work “Frankenstein.” Higher criticism of her creative writing can be found here. This erudite deconstruction talks about Shelley’s view of her father, an already-then emerging “godless” world, the rise of “reason and science,” as well as ancillary military issues.

Lots to unpack here

These “super soldiers” will fight and die for the United States of America, our allies, transnational corporations and a kaleidoscope of oligarchical stakeholders. This (possibly) dystopian future is approaching with ever-increasing rapidity. The Naval Research Laboratory is putting together a cognitive architecture for robots that approaches human-level intelligence. Follow the links here.

That said, let’s take a step back and ask if robot warfare will become a blessing or a curse for humanity. EHOs are only a part of a broader trend. Friedrich Nietzsche had his “uberman.” Abraham Mazlow is often quoted about his “hierarchy of needs,” the highest of which is “self-actualization.” Now it appears Nietzsche and Mazlow are actually combining.

An insightful article, published in “The Futurist,” reads:

“A key question regarding ‘the Singularity’ [when humanity finally aligns itself with machines] is whether the ‘chicken’ (strong AI) or the ‘egg’ (nanotechnology) will come first. In other words, will strong AI lead to full nanotechnology (molecular-manufacturing assemblers that can turn information into physical products), or will full nanotechnology lead to strong AI? The logic of the first premise is that strong AI would be in a position to solve any remaining design problems required to implement full nanotechnology.

“The second premise is based on the assumption that hardware requirements for strong AI will be met by nanotechnology-based computation. Likewise, the software requirements for engineering strong AI would be facilitated by nanobots. These microscopic machines will allow us to create highly detailed scans of human brains along with diagrams of how the human brain is able to do all the wonderful things that have long mystified us such as create meaning, contextualize information, and experience emotion.”

The article continues:

Once we fully understand how the brain functions, we will be able to recreate the phenomena of human thinking in machines. We will endow computers, already superior to us in the performance of mechanical tasks, with lifelike intelligence. Progress in both areas (nano and robotic) will necessarily use our most-advanced tools, so advances in each field will simultaneously facilitate the other. However, I do expect that the most important nanotechnological breakthroughs will emerge prior to strong AI, but only by a few years (around 2025 for nanotechnology and 2029 for strong AI).”

These “super soldiers” will rely – at least in part – on artificial intelligence, or AI, to achieve their mission objectives. Silicon Valley-based technological gurus have designed neural networks that can learn on their own. Machine learning is busy changing the world. We’re in a paradigm shift not unlike 1500 A.D. That era featured the printing press, publication of the Holy Bible, the discovery of the New World of the Conquistadors, as well as gunpowder replacing the sword.

Alternative energies, including wind power, are the wave of the future. Livermore, California, wind farm (Photo: Anthony C. LoBaido)
Alternative energies, including wind power, are the wave of the future. Livermore, California, wind farm (Photo: Anthony C. LoBaido)

Racing forward 500 years into the future from 1500 A.D., we’ve entered another new paradigm. This one is dominated by AI, machine learning, future patents on the human genome, cloning, transhumanism (H+) robotics, nanotechnology, genetics, fetal tissue, VR, AR and the Internet of Things. Jobs ranging from truck driver to construction worker to graphic designer to Wall Street trader are already being transformed. Some say that by 2030 A.D., 50 percent of all jobs that exist right will simply vanish forever.

Other changes are more subtle. For example, Major League Baseball managers (in the future) will be Big Data experts and human resources geniuses, more so than Yogi Berra, Dusty Baker or Joe Torre. The point being is that even those humans who have jobs in the future will find their job functions to be very different – because AI will be making most of the decisions for them. How will this transform our lives? Forbes describes the many ways technology will change how we live and think by 2030. An accompanying treatise on transhumanism can be found here.

Without an income, will we live by social credit, meaning a free check from the government as proposed by Elon Musk? Will we begin to tax robotic labor as we do for humans? Sure, many people will no longer have to perform jobs they hate, but how will we find meaning in our lives if robots and AI are doing all the work? For most of human history, men and women found meaning in the tilling of the soil, fishing on the high seas and using their God-given abilities to make the world a better place for themselves and for others.

Big money is being paid to those who can bring AI to life as a business model disruptor, as the New York Times reports here.

Says the Times:

“To bring in new AI engineers, companies like Google and Facebook are running classes that aim to teach ‘deep learning’ and related techniques to existing employees. And nonprofits like Fast.ai and companies like Deeplearning.ai, founded by a former Stanford professor who helped create the Google Brain lab, offer online courses.”

Of course all of this could be wiped out by an EMP event (from the sun or from North Korea), all-out nuclear war, an asteroid impact, gamma ray burst or similar apocalyptic event. A “cyber hurricane” could take down the “Internet of Things.” Read about it here.

China's space-tracking facility in Namibia. China has launched the world's first quantum satellite, built the largest radio telescope and has plans to mine Helium-3 from the moon (Photo: Anthony C. LoBaido)
China’s space-tracking facility in Namibia. China has launched the world’s first quantum satellite, built the largest radio telescope and has plans to mine Helium-3 from the moon (Photo: Anthony C. LoBaido)

AI-augmented soldiers 

As noted, these futuristic technologies are at hand, and there is no holding them back. The pace of technological change increases exponentially. For example, DNA wasn’t discovered until 1944. By the summer of 2000 A.D., the world was astonished to learn the human genome had finally been cracked. This is remarkable. Consider that David Livingstone of “Dr. Livingstone, I presume” fame and his contemporaries like John Speke only discovered the source of the Nile River (Lake Victoria) in August of 1858. This was mankind’s greatest mystery dating back to Ancient Greece. A terrific film titled “Mountains of the Moon” fleshes out this singular quest.

Yet in 2017, the nations of China (and India) are planning to colonize the moon to mine Helium-3 as a source of energy. Harvesting one of Saturn’s moons for unlimited, pure, fresh water is now within the realm of scientific possibility. Sophia the Robot was recently granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia. Someday, will an intrepid human encounter Sophia on the moon and ask, “Dr. Sophia, I presume?”

Inside the Special Projects Lab (X) at Google-Alphabet (Photo: Anthony C. LoBaido)
Inside the Special Projects Lab (X) at Google-Alphabet (Photo: Anthony C. LoBaido)

Will the battles of the future feature “our robots versus their robots”? Or will “universal soldiers,” as depicted by Jean-Claude Van Damme in reel-life, be the order of the day? Perhaps there will be an intermediate step – meaning equipping U.S. Special Forces with AI while fighting behind enemy lines in places like Yemen. Futuristic warfare units fighting in “megacities” of 25 million or more residents will also incorporate this writer’s suggested AI features – including the ability to publish directly on Facebook and Twitter in local languages and dialects. Arabic. Farsi. Mandarin. I would suggest the various dialects spoken in Lagos, Nigeria, as another example.

Let’s say that Seoul was overrun by North Korea – U.S. Special Forces would be able to publish real-time narratives in the North Korean dialect on Facebook and Twitter. You can read an excellent white paper on the (broader) subject here. Megacities maximize the policing and advertising power of the oligarchy ruling elite over the masses. (As an aside, the idea of using famed actress Angelina Jolie to capture African warlord Joseph Koney is another asymmetrical plan emphasizing the benefits of “thinking outside the box.” Read about it here.)

To begin, my idea for an AI-Special Forces component would follow established rudimentary industry standards such as probabilistic learning, weighted words, univariate calibration and isotonic regression, all underpinning machine learning.

My uses for AI in the field for Special Forces would include land navigation, cultural awareness information, language, access to Facebook and Twitter narratives, as well as help for difficult combat injuries. Already, AI can detect the early stages of cancer by analyzing X-rays, as Wired.com reported here. We need to accept that chatbots (for now written by script engineers, until machine learning cuts humans out of the loop) are the future. Only 10 percent of all apps that are downloaded are used more than once. In effect, chatbots are the new apps.

Case studies: Yemen and Niger 

Several recently failed missions of the U.S. Special Forces show an immediate “yesterday” need for AI to be utilized in the field. Let’s take a look at two operations that went horribly wrong.

The first would be the infamous raid in on the village of al Ghayil in Yemen. Brave and talented journalist Iona Craig fleshes it out via the Pulitzer Center right here. Basically, it appears that Iranian disinformation may have actually tricked the U.S. into launching a raid during which our elite Special Forces killed a paymaster (respected resistance leader Abdulraouf al Dhahab) who might’ve been more useful (to the U.S. and Saudi Arabia) if kept alive.

As Craig explains in her ambitious, classic article:

“The raid was launched in an effort to capture or kill Qassim al Rimi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The SEALs had come in from the low ground to the north, approaching the homes of Abdulraouf al Dhahab and Mohammed al Ameri from the eastern slopes below.

“According to those present, the firefight quickly escalated around the al Dhahab house, halting the SEALs’ advance. As the U.S. forces fought from the lower ground and more men descended the mountainside to join the shootout, airstrikes obliterated Mohammed al Ameri’s house on the hill above, killing three of his children, ages 7, 5, and 4, and seemingly destroying any possibility of retrieving laptops, hard drives, or other intelligence material from inside without digging through piles of rubble in the dark.”

Craig continues:

“The aftermath of the raid’s destruction left villagers struggling to understand what the Americans were trying to accomplish. Abdulraouf, whose house appeared to be one of the targets, was no stranger to American attempts to kill him. He was the apparent target of at least three separate airstrikes between 2011 and 2013 in al Bayda province.

“Following the onset of civil war in March 2015, Abdulraouf played a key role in leading the self-described ‘resistance’ of local armed militias loyal to the Saudi-led coalition, fighting on the pro-government side of Yemen’s internationally recognized president-in-exile, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. As a senior Qayfa tribal figure, Abdulraouf was a well-respected resistance leader. The day before the January raid, he was handing out salaries for pro-government fighters after collecting the money from the nearest Saudi coalition base in the neighboring province of Marib.”

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If the Navy SEALs had access to state-of-the-art AI, would this raid have gone wrong? Could deaths on both sides have been prevented by U.S. Special Forces not acting with only partial information?

Consider the more recent events in the landlocked nation of Niger – home of the infamous “Yellowcake” dossier – which changed the course of American and Middle East history for the worst. Basically, George W. Bush bought into an MI-6 memorandum stating Saddam Hussein was looking into purchasing uranium from Niger in an effort to build weapons of mass destruction. It should be noted that Niger possesses 10 percent of the world’s known uranium reserves. President Bush mentioned this in a particularly moving if not memorable State of the Union address. Colin Powell then trumpeted this false claim at the United Nations. With AI in the loop, would such a gross false narrative have been allowed to infect reality on so many levels?

Niger is twice the size of Texas. Arabic, French and 120 local dialects are spoken there. Along with Yemen, Afghanistan and Haiti, Niger is one of the world’s poorest nations. Recently, U.S. Special Forces personnel were ambushed and executed while on patrol in that nation. They mistakenly believed they were in a low-danger zone. Imagine AI helping them during that patrol. Imagine real-time imagery of AQIM and Taureg fighters in pursuit at their fingertips. (Think of the scenes in the film “Tears of the Sun” displaying this technology being used by Navy SEALs deployed in the field.) According to reports, U.S. Special Forces called in for help. That help did arrive, yet the French military was not authorized to fire in support of our brave young men. Why not? Deconstruct the events for yourself as published here.

Take a moment to ponder (again, exactly) how big Niger is – if you drove from Houston to Los Angeles, you would be exactly half way in El Paso, and you still wouldn’t be out of Texas. Now double that. Shouldn’t the 300 U.S. soldiers based in a hot, landlocked, isolated country like Niger have AI at their beck and call for support? In terms of SERE, or Survival, Escape, Resistance and Evasion, AI could prove invaluable in so many ways, including the cultural awareness and navigation components of SERE.

My AI idea would draw upon the established work of SRI international (Stanford Research Institute) and the DARPA-funded artificial intelligence project CALO (Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes). CALO has been called, “the most ambitious AI research project in history.” It is a “”cognitive prosthetic” that can “adapt to unexpected events” during “intense information overload.” Think of personalizing the Internet for any Special Forces unit’s needs in the field. As the mission changes, the AI adapts and learns. It studies every possible scenario and formulates contingencies.

I’ve thought about naming my AI-Special Forces companion “Duo,” “Black Mirror” or “Deep Threat.” Then there’s “Lyle,” after the late NFL star Lyle Alzado, a man so tough he actually fought heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali for eight rounds at Mile High Stadium. (This was ostensibly done to raise money for charity.) Alzado boxed in this bout without fear, and raised, over the course of his life, millions of dollars for children’s hospitals. Whatever his flaws, Alzado’s toughness, fearlessness and giant teddy bear inner goodness should not be forgotten.

Another title would be “Loyal,” named for my mentor at Baylor, the late Dr. Loyal Gould. He founded the journalism programs at Wichita State, Ohio State and Baylor. Dr. Gould, who covered MLK, the Kremlin and JFK, served as Nixon’s translator when Nixon visited East Berlin at the height of the Cold War. It should be noted that Dr. Gould was also a former Navy SEAL who fought in World War II as a “frogman.”

Whatever such a project is ultimately named, it needs to be researched and deployed in the field as soon as possible. Our brave Special Forces deserve the very best artificial intelligence has to offer. It should be noted that in China, an AI robot named “Xiaoyi” just passed the medical licensing procedure to become a doctor – the first entity in history to do so. Read about it here.

One report stated:

“The robot scored 456 points in the exam, well above the national average, according to its research team at the Tsinghua-iFlyTek Joint Lab of Tsinghua University and China’s leading AI enterprise iFlyTek Co., Ltd. Xiaoyi studied nearly one million medical images, 53 medical books, two million medical records, and 400,000 medical literatures and medical reports before sitting for the test, said Wu Ji, director of the joint lab.

China is spending $1.5 trillion to surpass the U.S. as the global leader in AI by 2030 A.D. Read about it here. Perhaps before too long, American children will be asking, “Dr. Xiaoyi. I presume?”

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Day Zero

One of the main components of AI includes “domain classifiers.” These help to route (weighted) words, sentences, ideas and topics into certain groupings inside the artificial intelligence matrix. For the purposes of the Special Forces, different domain classifiers would be organized and populated by countries, regions, continents, terrain, mission objectives, languages, dialects, cultures, enemy operations, religion – including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and African animism, narcotics, prescription drugs, combat injuries, star charts for land navigation, medicines, ancillary civilian-stakeholders, soldier-related suicides, tribal customs, local tribal leadership, HVTs, POIs, narratives, counter-narratives, the history of guerilla warfare, weapons systems, reconnaissance, target analysis, weather and real-time satellite tracking capabilities.

Other functions would include everything that might be needed for SERE scenarios. How do I talk to (and establish rapport with) a North Korean, a Houthi and/or a tribal leader in Niger? In a world of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, how do Special Forces shape and control emerging narratives? How can sympathetic journalists be contacted, informed and motivated to action when needed most? As JFK – who basically invented the postmodern U.S. Special Forces – once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

Perhaps the U.S. Air Force, Marine Force Recon, Delta Force, Green Berets, Army Rangers and Navy SEALs could all launch their own AI-Special Forces development programs. Through creative stress, the different branches can learn and formulate newly integrated systems. Then knowledge can be combined and assimilated between the branches – which often perform very different types of missions.

The devil is in the details. Archetype MIT/DARPA/Silicon Valley SCRUM teams can start by organizing and funding full-stack engineers, development specialists, UX and UI testers and script engineers working together with U.S. Special Forces personnel on training and operational scenarios.

Let’s begin by striving to bring to fruition the following alternate successful outcomes of the aforementioned failed Special Forces missions.

Scenario 1:

U.S. Navy SEALs: Requesting sitrep on HVT Abdulraouf al Dhahab.

Lyle AI: He’s at a Saudi coalition base in Marib getting money to hand out to Yemeni tribes loyal to the government.

U.S. Navy SEALs: Terminate with extreme prejudice?

Lyle AI: Negative.

Scenario 2:

U.S. Army Green Berets: Are we safe on patrol in Niger?

Loyal AI: No. AQIM is in pursuit. Check your real-time display screens from the satellite feed.

U.S. Army Green Berets: Call in a French airstrike. Request immediate assistance from French Foreign Legion Special Forces in support of our mission. Confirm new extraction point.

Loyal AI: Done.

U.S. Army Green Berets: Great job, Loyal AI.

Loyal AI: I was created to help the Special Forces.

It can be done. It should be done. It must be done. How will the United States’ soldiers of the future perform in the field? The only thing we can say for sure is that the future is basically a set of mathematical probabilities based on what we do in the present. Our thoughts and habits inform our actions, which in turn lead us to our destiny. Brazil is different from New England because the Puritans sailed in one direction and the Conquistadors sailed in another.

Imagine if the Puritans and Conquistadors had AI. Now imagine a limitless future where AI becomes an ordinary household appliance. The nation that dominates in AI will rule the world for the rest of the 21st century and beyond. America’s Special Forces are the tip of a spear that must be sharp. The more they incorporate AI, the sharper that spear will be. JFK was right when he said: “We do not do these things because they are easy. We do them because they are hard.”

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