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Can the Pentagon Win the AI Arms Race?

Why the U.S. Is in Danger of Falling Behind

A General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper stands on the runway during "Black Dart", a live-fly, live fire demonstration of 55 unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, at Naval Base Ventura County Sea Range, Point Mugu, near Oxnard, California July 2015.  Patrick T. Fallon / REUTERS

When the stingray-shaped object took off and landed lightly on the deck of the USS George H. W. Bush in July 2013, some hailed it as a moment in aviation history to rank with the first heavier-than-air powered flight, at Kitty Hawk, in 1902. The X-47B drone flew itself, decided its own flight path, and completed on its own a mission given to it by humans. The dawn of autonomous weapons systems seemed undeniable. Yet the drone was hardly independent, as humans still programmed all its possible decisions, leaving it to choose from a menu of options. Half a decade later, experts are making new claims that the future of warfare is about to change. Today, artificial intelligence (AI) is the new frontier of military competition, and with China and Russia making headway in the field, the Pentagon is starting to rush, some say belatedly, into the new era.

THE NEXT WAVE OF AI

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