US military investing US$2 billion in 'next generation' artificial intelligence

A US soldier smiles during the Rapid Trident drills on a shooting range, near Lviv, Ukraine, on Sept 6, 2018.
A US soldier smiles during the Rapid Trident drills on a shooting range, near Lviv, Ukraine, on Sept 6, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Pentagon's research wing said Friday (Sept 7) it was investing US$2 billion (S$2.8 billion) to develop a new generation of artificial intelligence with "human-like" communication skills.

The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, will use the money to fund around 20 existing projects over the next five years and launch new ones over the next 12 months seeking a higher level of machine learning, the agency's director Steven Walker told reporters near Washington.

"We are making multiple research investments aimed at transforming computers from specialised tools to partners in problem-solving," said Walker, referring to the new generation of machines as "AI Next".

"We want to explore how machines can acquire human-like communication and reasoning capabilities, with the ability to recognise new situations and environments and adapt to them," he said in a statement.

The current generation of smart machines and robots cannot be easily updated when new technology appears, and researchers want them to learn to update themselves, he said.

The new smart machines will be designed to help speed up security clearance vetting or accelerated accreditation of software systems, the agency said.

Most of Darpa's research, which is entirely funded by the Pentagon, is focused on technologies that can be used in combat, such as drones that are becoming ever more autonomous.

Another use could be Darpa's Blackjack project, which aims to develop a constellation of low-orbit satellites that will communicate with one another and can continuously cover military operations.

"We will be looking, under that programme, to help satellites be able to communicate and develop a corporate behaviour," Walker said.