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Ministry of Defence calls for registry of AI experts

THE UK’S MINISTRY OF DEFENCE has suggested that the government should build a registry of security-cleared artificial intelligence and robotics experts, who can be called-up should Queen and country ever require their services. 

That’s according to a new Ministry of Defence Joint Concept Note entitled Human and Machine Teaming. It also laments the UK’s technical skills shortages and calls for ‘a register of security-cleared UK nationals’ with AI and robotics expertise.

The document sets out the Ministry’s vision of the future in a world where artificial intelligence is critical to national defence.

With development of both AI and robotics shifting from the public sector to the private sector, ‘civil commercial investment in AI and robotic technologies, and the recruitment of subject matter experts’, is vastly outstripping the resources available to nation states.

The best systems thus begin and remain in the civilian sector, making military access to AI and robotics a challenge: ‘Some Western commercial entities have publicly declared policies stating they will not contract with defence or security agencies which may compound the challenges facing the UK Ministry of Defence.

“This is in stark contrast to other states which have enshrined access rights to expertise, technology and data in their national legislation.’

The MoD goes on to paint a picture where countries with low GDP or manpower, but strengths in mathematics, programming and other technologies, could increasingly ‘punch above their weight’.

If you didn’t get the hint, the Note specifically mentions Russia. 

The MoD can’t compete with Google

The problem is, technology giants like Google and Microsoft are keen to bring AI and robotics experts on board and keep them there, through recruitment drives, MA investments and, above all, excellent rates of pay, share options and long holiday entitlements. 

The defence industry, meanwhile, simply can’t compete. 

The MoD suggests “[being] innovative to secure access to subject matter expertise’ and ‘[needing] to nurture sufficient in-house knowledge and understanding to generate intelligent customer capabilities”.

In plain English, that means that the Ministry wants to make sure that its own experts are proper experts who can genuinely understand what they’re being told by contractors.

This is because the MoD, and defence departments worldwide, have to buy AI and other technical systems from commercial companies, that is vital to ensure that budgets are spent responsibly, with taxpayers receiving value for money – unlike much of the defence budget, for example. 

That’s where the proposed register comes in, as a list of security-cleared experts who the MoD could call on to help understand the technology behind the hype; much the same as the cybersecurity experts that GCHQ can call upon.

“This may be as valuable an advantage as the ability to fabricate high grade steel during the Victorian age”, the Note claims.

Curiously, though, there ‘s very little mention of the way that the MoD intends to actually use AI in the field.

What it does say is as follows: “Longer term research efforts should be focused on the use of intelligent software agents that manage all aspects of information processing.

“Ultimately, this could eliminate technological constraints that confine us to our current monolithic headquarters approaches.

“The whole system could be built on a federated, disaggregated and self-organising peer-to-peer command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) network – effectively a combat cloud.

“Such a system should be able to draw on reachback access to cloud-based servers, but be capable of resilient operation provided by command and control applications across a variety of in-theatre platforms.

“From an operator’s perspective such a system will handle user requests for information and data passage as an intelligent assistant service.” µ

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