Published on in Defence & National SecurityInnovation

Digital technology continues to reshape every aspect of our lives. AI, automated techniques and machine learning are increasingly being adopted as part of this revolution. And this is having a profound impact on decision making in all walks of life, including Defence. The roles humans will play in taking these decisions is also evolving, as the volume of data available for analysis increases exponentially.

With this data explosion, AI is increasingly outperforming humans in its ability to analyse a much greater volume of information at unprecedented speeds and fidelity, that are simply unattainable by a human. The result is that critical decisions can be taken that are evidence-based, backed by data delivering much higher levels of rigour than previously possible.

On the global financial markets, a split-second can be the difference between millions of dollars, profit or loss. Using AI capability to analyse vast volumes of data enables decisions to be taken much faster, and with more assurance than previously. The financial benefits and gains for commercial businesses can be huge. But so too can the benefits to Defence, where the difference between good and bad and fast and slow decisions can be a matter of life and death.

Military internet of things

Like our everyday lives, the modern day battlefield is evolving. The military internet of things is connecting all aspects of the battlespace, and information can be shared instantaneously. This enables critical decisions to be taken in a nanosecond that can destroy an adversary without any human involvement.

So as the technology evolves and develops further, we will increasingly see the adoption of more and more machine learning to take such decisions, with increased rigour. As T.E. Lawrence once wrote: “Nine-tenths of tactics are certain and taught in books: but the irrational tenth is like the kingfisher flashing across the pool, and that is the test of generals.”

Consequently, 90% of a commander’s decision ought to be explicitly evidence-based. It should be linked to the data, with explicit premises and assumptions, and formulated in a way that allows information to be gathered to confirm or falsify this underpinning logic. If Lawrence’s maxim is true, the application of AI should lead to perhaps 90% of the decision-making process becoming automated with no direct human involvement at the time of the decision.

Can AI deliver creativity?

But what of the remaining 10% which relies on the commander’s natural instinct and creativity? Could AI have a role to play here, too?

We think of art as being uniquely human – that works of art are fundamentally based on the inimitable creative instinct of the artists themselves. It is this creativity and individuality that sets them apart. The Oxford English Dictionary offers a circular definition of ‘creative’ as “Having the quality of creating, able to create; of or relating to creation.

Meanwhile, it defines ‘art’ as “A practical pursuit or trade of a skilled nature, a craft; an activity that can be achieved or mastered by the application of specialist skills; (also) any one of the useful arts.” There seems little reason AI and machine learning can’t master ‘art’ under this latter definition.

Perhaps accelerated by the pandemic – digital technology is changing the way art is bought, sold, and viewed. It’s even changing the way pieces of art are being created, with new art forms emerging.

The first signs of this revolution emerged in 2018 when Christie’s New York sold its first ever AI-generated artwork. Created by a French art collective called Obvious, the portrait of Edmond de Belamy used a process known as generative adversarial network, or GAN, which used two algorithms working together to analyse a vast database of old master paintings. It sold for over $430,000, far exceeding its expected sale price of $7,000.

Fast-forward two years. In March, Christie’s sold the world’s first purely digital artwork for an eye-watering $69,346,250. Everydays: The First 5,000 Days, is a unique work in the history of digital art, incorporating a non-fungible token (NFT) as a guarantee of its authenticity.  An NFT is a unit of data stored on a digital ledger, verified by blockchain, that certifies a digital asset to be unique and therefore not interchangeable. Inevitably, the transaction was completed using cryptocurrency – in this case, Ether. The artwork hangs in Christie’s virtual gallery in Genesis City, the capital of Decentraland – a virtual world.

What we’ve witnessed here over the past two years is nothing short of remarkable. A $60 billion industry has fundamentally transformed how it operates through the application of technology. And given the sums that these new art forms are commanding, this radical use of AI and digital technology appears to have managed to maintain a sense of an emotional connection, in what we think of as being a uniquely human experience.

At this year’s DSEI, we will ask those visiting our stand to explore the role of AI in creativity. We will be showcasing art produced by a machine learning algorithm trained much like an art student, on all the schools and styles of art, and asked to push beyond traditional boundaries with new and novel compositions.

So, what does this teach us?  

As the science fiction writer, William Gibson, declared over two decades ago: the future is already here. It is just not evenly distributed yet. The potential applications for AI and machine learning techniques may have no boundaries. The nature of Defence and the modern day battlefield demands data-driven, evidence-based decision-making underpinned by rigour and high degrees of assurance. This will increasingly use AI techniques with human involvement diminishing.

But the potential for AI to play a significant role in the elusive 10% of a commander’s creative decision making instinct is clearly there – if the transformation of the art market is a barometer of what the future holds.

At Fujitsu, we are at the forefront of AI and machine learning techniques, and we are excited by the potential applications of these emerging technologies. We’re continually evaluating these rapid developments, careful to consider the ethical dilemmas they pose, excited by how these technologies can help us make better decisions – on the battlefield, in the boardroom, everywhere.

Can AI be creative? Visit us at DSEI, check out some AI-created art, maybe team with our AI to produce your own, and tell us what you think…

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Keith Dear

Dr. Keith Dear is Director Artificial Intelligence Innovation at Fujitsu Defence and National Security.Keith has served as an Expert Advisor to the Prime Minister on Defence Modernisation and the Integrated Review, leading also on UK space strategy in No. 10, and advising on national strategies on emerging technology.A former Intelligence Officer in the RAF he has served in Iraq, completed three deployments to Afghanistan, deployed to Abkhazia (Georgia) with the United Nations, to Mali alongside the French, and served on exchange with US Air Force.

Keith now continues his service as a Group Captain (Reserve) in 601 Squadron, leading on Science, Technology and academic liaison. He is a Chief of the Air Staff’s Fellow, Research Associate at Oxford’s Changing Character of War Programme and Associate Fellow at RUSI - where he guest edited the Special Edition on AI in November 2019.

He speaks widely on AI, Big Data and Decision-Making and was named one of the most relevant voices in European tech by the leading business ‘Big Things’ Conference in 2019.He holds a DPhil in Experimental Psychology from the University of Oxford. In 2011, he was awarded King’s College London’s O’Dwyer-Russell prize for his MA studies in Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism. He co-leads the Defence Entrepreneurs’ Forum (UK) and was founder and CEO of Airbridge Aviation, a not-for-profit start-up dedicated to delivering humanitarian aid by cargo drones.

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