Preparing Naval Forces for ‘Singularity’

Issues Details: 
Vol 12 Issue 4. Sep - Oct 2018
Page No.: 
Sub Title: 
The article elucidates on the rising prospects of Singularity in naval warfare
Vijay Sakhuja
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Singularity looms large on the technological horizon with machine driven and managed processes with Artificial Intelligence taking over an increasing number of decisions hitherto performed based on human cognition. Vijay Sakhuja elucidates on the rising prospects of Singularity in naval warfare and why naval forces would require to prepare for and manage such an ingress into machine-determined decision making

Singularity is the hypothesis that rapid advances in artificial intelligence will abruptly trigger runaway technological growthresulting in a powerful superintelligence that would, qualitatively, far surpass all human intelligence.

The US Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR), through an announcement, called for expressions of interest from Navy, non-Navy, technology, non-technologist gamers to help it prepare for a ‘post-Singularity’world that will be shaped by highly capable ‘greater-than-human’ artificial intelligence. It set up the Massive Multiplayer Online War Game Leveraging the Internet (MMOWGLI) to facilitate exchange of ideas among the players through interaction over the platform and draw upon the intellectual capital of the people to encourage innovation and explore new solutions to complex problems and hypothetical scenarios to develop better strategies and tactics. Eric Gulovsen, director of disruptive technology at the ONR was forthright in noting that “Technology has advanced to the point that we can see the Singularity on the horizon”.

The idea of Singularity has been around since the 1950s, and Alan Turing at a talk in 1951 entitled “Intelligent Machinery: A heretical theory,” observed that “Once the machine thinking method has started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers…At some stage therefore we should have to expect the machines to take control.” In the early 1999s,VernorVinge from the Department of Mathematical Sciences, San Diego State University, in a paperargued that it will be technologically possible to create ‘superhuman intelligence’ and this will mark the beginning of the ‘end of the human’ era. In recent times, Raymond Kurzweil , in his book ‘The Singularity is Near’ argues that Singularity can be created by a super-human artificial intelligence with the potential to conjure up ideas  which “no human being has thought about in the past, and will invent technological tools that will be more sophisticated and advanced than anything we have today.”

The super-intelligent artificial intelligence can be expected to improve upon itselfcontinuously and create another improved versionof it. This will result in ‘intelligence explosion’ and the ‘simple, biological machines’ that humans are will be left far behind. These fears have also been expressed by Steven Hawking and Elon Musk andthey cautioned that super-intelligent artificial intelligence, if allowed to runaway could create many other challenges. For instance, super-human artificial intelligence when applied to weapons could even take human life on the battlefield or in policing, border control, or any circumstances without human oversight. It is useful to mention that there is an ongoing agitation against autonomous technologies and an international ban on ‘killer robots’ as also “a treaty for emerging weapons’ is being advocated. 

Be that as it may, artificial intelligence specialists are confident about the arrival of Singularity,but differ on the time it will become a reality. Raymond Kurzweil haspredicted that machines will match human intelligence by 2029 and will surpass by 2045. Another prediction by Masayoshi Son, SoftBank CEO notes that Singularity will arrive by 2047and artificial enabled machines will constantly improve upon themselves and start controlling and managing connected devices. It is at this point that “a single computer chip will have an IQ of 10,000 — far surpassing the most intelligent people in the world”. Further, “If this super intelligence goes into moving robots, the world, our lifestyle dramatically changes”.

These robots, two, four or 100 legged or winged or with propellers would be crawling on land, flying in the air, sailing or swimming in water and would be everywhere. Over the next three decades their population will surpass that of humans living on the earth. Depending on the number of robots that are connected to the internet, it is plausible that their combined intelligence could be far higher and superior than that of the human population. For instance, according to a report “Six Trends for the Next 25 Years “, it is estimated that by 2020, “50 billion objects will be connected to the internet. This will result in a smart integrated system of sensors, data and internet enabled devices that manage our lives. Over the next 25 years, through technological convergence, the ‘Internet of Everything’ will enable us to manage all aspects of our lives in real time.”

Naval Singularity

It has been argued that Artificial Intelligence can fundamentally transform naval warfare from ‘informatized’ to ‘intelligentized’.Artificial intelligence has already made debut in the naval domain and its usage is beginning to find reference in many facets of activity from warfare, reconnaissance and surveillance, engineering and electrical operations and logistics management including supply chain.

Among the advancement in this domain, swarm drones are more popular and growing rapidly. These can be put to military use for reconnaissance, surveillance, strike against enemy targets, electronic warfare through jamming, and other such missions. It is plausible that these can be targeted against major combat platforms at sea such as aircraft carriers through dive-bombing thus offering cheap options for attacking a powerful enemy as the United States. Likewise, underwater drones can operate autonomously and intelligently navigate to avoid obstacles to carry out reconnaissance missions. Besides these can be used as decoys against submarines as also act as scouts for submarines by gathering data, carrying out reconnaissance for submarines as also carry explosives to detonate near enemy underwater platforms.

The future missiles will possess high degree of artificial intelligence for a number of functions such as mission control, flight management, and target designation.It will be possible to overcome the limitations of ‘fire and forget’ and control these in real-time as also redirect them to other tasks while in flight.

Another important facet of use of artificial intelligence is in the form of data fusion, synthesis of multi-source data and image, automated target recognition based on machine learning and intelligent sensing in complex electromagnetic environment. Closely associated with it is the challenge of abundance of data and its retrieval and use. For this purpose, Big data analytics are important enablers that would be able to retrieve massive information, and by using advanced computational capacity make intelligent decisions. While it will be possible to achieve information and data superiority, human physical and psychological shortcomings can be compensated by an external and intelligent brain thereby augmenting battle space awareness for quick decision making and hasten the command-cycle by presenting recommendations to the commander.

There are also options of leveraging artificial intelligence for advancing operational training and war-gaming. Innovative and challenging scenarios can be created which can offer unexpected tactics. These can be supplemented with augmented reality and virtual reality to overcome actual battlefield experience.

In essence, future warfare at sea will be highly ‘intelligentized’ and  led by integrated command platforms that draw on artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning, cloud computing, etc.  There are clear indications that human cognition will not be able to remain abreast of speed of operations and would necessitate a new model of operations at sea in which artificial intelligence will have a greater role. Whenever that happens, Singularity in naval warfare would have arrived and become a reality and would severely challenge human power to micromanage and exercise authority.

Concluding thought

Naval officers across the globe have grown with the writings of Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, United States Navy through his most famous work, TheInfluence of Sea Power Upon History 1660-1783, in which he introduced the concept of sea power. His thesis was that no nation could aspire to be a great power unless it effectively used the sea for both commercial and military purposes. Mahanian thought on sea power was a product of the First Industrial Revolution (18th century - Steam power) and over the last three centuries, three industrial revolutions have impacted mankind i.e. Second Industrial Revolution (19thcentury- Electricity); Third Industrial Revolution (20th century - Electronics) and now in the 21st century we are experiencing extreme automation led by microchips and super computation led by artificial intelligence with impending ‘superhuman intelligence’. Masayosi Son, believes that “Those who rule chips will rule the entire world. Those who rule data will rule the entire world.That's what people of the future will say.”

It is fair to argue that 21stCentury Sea Power could be led by Singularity.


Military Technology