back to article Get ready for the Internet of Battle Things, warns US Army AI boffin

A US Army researcher believes that wars will be fought with human soldiers commanding a team of physical and cyber robots to create a network of “Internet of Battle Things” in the future. “Internet of Intelligent Battle Things (IOBT) is the emerging reality of warfare,” as AI and machine learning advances Alexander Kott, chief …

  1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Better Not

    The current crop of AI or to be more exact machine learning/neural network stuff has a major issue for use in combat. It is guaranteed to just go "stupid" occasionally. Attaching it to anything that can fire is guaranteed to provide both blue on blue and civilian slaughter. It will only get worse and not better as "it improves" - it is mathematically guaranteed to throw an outlier once in a while.

    When an image recognition algorithm calls black people gorillas it is offensive, but fixable. When the image recognition algorithm marks suntanned children and a parent with a beard as terrorists and exterminates them there is no fix for that.

    IMHO it should be prohibited for combat military uses. Same as biological and chemical weapons.

    1. Cuddles

      Re: Better Not

      "Attaching it to anything that can fire is guaranteed to provide both blue on blue and civilian slaughter."

      No noticeable difference then.

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Better Not

        No noticeable difference then.

        There is a major difference.

        You cannot court martial the AI, put it on the bench in Hague and kick the step from under its feet on the Nuremberg gallows.

        While some countries have gone to extreme steps to ensure that their "own" murderers and war criminals never get step 2 and 3, as far as humans are concerned those steps are still out there. It is a pity we fail to apply them as often as we should. It is a pity we also make sure that any "fact collection" missions do not produce the material necessary for any of these steps.

        When the AI will develop a neck for a noose to be applied, then there will be "no major difference". That is clearly not the case for now as nobody is responsible and it is a case of "Ai dunnit"

    2. GIRZiM

      Re: Better Not

      > it should be prohibited for combat military uses

      Yeah, you see there's just one thing...

      When people protest and the government sends in the Police/Military to deal with it, people's grand/mothers have this nasty habit of sitting atop barricades and threatening their grand/children with a thick ear if they don't stop mucking about this instant - and before long, a lot of the Police/Military have sided with the protesters.

      Robots, otoh, will just keep calm and shoot granny in the face.

      So, the future of crowd control is definitely robotic.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        "a significant degree of autonomous self-organization; "

        what could possibly go wrong with such a plan?

  2. MrT


    ... "able to follow conversations and have general common sense and reasoning skills" - it's not just AI that has this need. Too often, the protagonists / politicians / populace come across like a maniacal troop of howler monkeys, substituting civility with volume.

  3. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Hmmm? Deja Vu? And are Earthed Systems already Cracked ...

    .... and Quite Paradoxical as an Ethical Hackers' Paradise Destination/Safe Haven/Heavenly Space?*

    "And we augment the talents of our Government scientists by working closely with academia and businesses. We find many companies – large and small – very interested in working with us."

    That is as may be, but not all companies - whether large or small - are either equal or up to the task which provides an overwhelming lead in fields which are entirely novel? .....

    You have to admit, there is nothing quite like it anywhere yet on Earth. Or are we going to be told by the likes of a DARPA/IARPA that there is and they are working with its IT in Command with Command and Control of Computers and Communications? ..... C42 Quantum Communication Control Systems .... AI@ITsWork

    And is this where Internet of Battle Things is headed and where IT and AI is already at .....

    Methinks we've moved on into the MegaAstraMetaPhysical and Existential ExtraTerrestrial, Serge C. :-) Spooky SkunkWorks Stuff that Tolerates No Nonsense.

    9 April 2018 at 19:40

    Pie in the Sky or an AI Beast from The East Unleashed in the West? Where be you at in the Greater Schema of Sublime Internet Networking Things? Trailing in ITs Wakes or Creating Titanic Waves Trialing and Registering Brave New More Orderly World Order Control Protocols?

    Have you any interesting news of UKGBNI MOD CyberSpace AIMissions, Katyanna Q?

    * And is that Reserved and Preserved and Servered to/for a Chosen Few?

    1. jimdandy

      Re: Hmmm? Deja Vu? And are Earthed Systems already Cracked ...

      Och, aye laddies; lest ye think that the droobies out there by jes' waitin' fer ya to swan in and spank 'em; they'll be farther an' anon wi' a shiny new plotz fer ye to fall inta.

      There nae be a quantum idjit can snark a bunch o' bloody wankers who's got a target in sight. N'less o'course they be blind to th' world around them. Afghanistan hae shewed that ta many clots wha' thought differnt.

      Besides, the drones will have to fight their own wars, just to be able to send significant data to ground troops. And who will know which drone is farfing the data?

  4. Dave 126 Silver badge

    "The wars of the future will be fought IN SPAACE... or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you graduate today, you duty is clear: to build and maintain those robots"

    - The Simpsons, head of a military academy.

    This wasn't even the Simpsons reference I was looking for. I was seeking the brief scene (at the end of a Treehouse of Horror) set in the future where two armies of robots obliterate each other. It's only a few seconds long, but the escalation of destruction is sublime.

    1. Chozo

      I think the predictions of Robin Williams film 'Toys' and more recently 'Enders Game' where the kids think they are playing video games but actually controlling real weapons is disturbingly closer.

      1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker
        Black Helicopters

        Re: Playing video games

        Insert obligatory "Wargames" reference to "Global Thermonuclear War" vs. WOPR.

        Insert obligatory closing line of the movie.

        End transmission.

      2. Cuddles

        "Robin Williams film 'Toys' and more recently 'Enders Game'"

        I think you'll find that's the other way around.

    2. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      You might be thinking of the end of this Simpsons episode:,_the_Son,_and_the_Holy_Guest_Star

      which was a holy war which included giant robots (as well as humans):

  5. x 7

    Big assumption

    "Kott’s ideas rest on the assumption that countries have obeyed a ban on autonomous weapons “beyond meaningful control”."

    Bad assumption

    Weapons are increasingly going to be "fire and forget": it reduces the risk of hacking, and allows longer range attacks at a higher rate.

    ISIS et al aren't going to obey any bans, any more than Russia is obeying any bans on chemical warfare

  6. d3vy

    Ive had this discussion recently with a fellow contractor working on such systems and it seems that the better these systems become and the less human interaction there is the better (Fewer actual people to be killed).

    However as the whole world progresses and this tech becomes ubiquitous it does kind of raise the question - what is the point of going to war? If there is no loss of life then a war becomes an unwinnable battle, a battle to see who can build the best robots / who can out build their opponents capability to destroy their robots.

    If thats the route that we are going down could we maybe just agree to settle future disputes with a game of killer robot top trumps rather than actually deploying anything dangerous?

    Kim Jong has played his T800 card.

    May plays the T1000 card.

    Trump shouts go fish and is sent out of the room.

    Everyone then agrees that the whole thin is a pointless waste of time and gets on with something all together more productive.

    The next world war could be fought around a table with tea and biscuits and be over in time for lunch!

    1. GIRZiM

      Re: maybe just agree to settle future disputes with a game of killer robot top trumps

      It's just Kil'n People with mettle instead of clay.

    2. Claptrap314 Silver badge

      Battle by Robot

      The original Star Trek & the Judge Dredd comic both both explored variants of this theme. There are a few things to keep in mind:

      1) War is the resolution of political differences through violence. You win when the other side cries "uncle".

      2) If there are more entities in the world than the two at war, both are strongly incentivized to retain reserve capacity to be able to face other opponents later.

      3) People value their own wealth more than the lives of complete strangers. (This is why starvation can still happen.)

      4) As the cost of anything goes down, its utilization goes up.

      One of the far limits of the above points is that we prefer to resolve political differences by voting. Another is that Reagan was able to drive the Cold War to a successful conclusion by forcing the Soviets to overspend on the military.

      When robot armies fight, the costs to both sides is "only" economic. This leaves open the distinct possibility that such wars might not involve any more human casualties than in the final years of the Cold War. But it is also possible that the production chain could be successfully targeted, which would open the civilian population to mass destruction. (Think about the end of WWII.)

      Someone pointed out last year that we ALREADY have autonomous decision making by "bots"--cruise missiles. The reason is that battlefield communications are too unreliable & slow. Expect more.

  7. TopBanana


    It's a good job that the communications between all of this will be encrypted with a secure algorithm. One that can only be hacked by the "Good guys(tm)", as per FBI/NSA/GCHQ mandate.

    1. Brian Miller

      Re: Encryption

      Yeah, which will go out of sync immediately, or the connected battle helmets will start spewing spam and Viagra ads.

      But on the plus side, we'll only be able to field just a platoon of troops, because the kit will be so expensive that's all the government will be able to afford. That's how casualties will be reduced!

  8. handleoclast

    Ob XKCD

    Here and here.

    Take your pick as to which outcome you think more likely.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Ob XKCD

      Take your pick as to which outcome you think more likely.

      Azimov covers some of the possible outcomes in some of his stories. So it is actually "standoff according to Azimov". An example here will be the "Runaround" which explores a variety of the second scenario. I believe some of the others were covered as well.

  9. strum

    One word: batteries (and I don't mean the artillery kind).

    1. Mark 85

      So you're saying "he who controls the batteries wins the world."???? I suspect you have a plan....

  10. JLV

    >Kott’s ideas rest on the assumption that countries have obeyed a ban on autonomous weapons “beyond meaningful control”

    Yeah, what's the actual incentive for that to happen? In the Last Good Man, by Linda Nagata (which I've already plugged before), one of the opponents has a distinct advantage because it has stripped down its bots' dont-kill-civs AI routines considerably.

    I happen to think that an alternative approach is not so much to figure out how to manage all the clutter/civs/friendlies in a land battlezone, which are forecast to become more and more urban. Instead, first aim for autonomous systems in an Air-to-air context.

    Anything that doesn't (somehow) light up as friend with your Friend-or-Foe transponders is fair game in a hot war. No need to worry about civs. Just shoot it down.

    This is one of the aspects that really worries me about F35s budgetary commitments. We know AI is coming. We know it takes years to train pilots, more so than infantry. We also know that pilots are bound by 8-9G maneuverability meatsack limits. And we know that the other players are going to have a massive incentive to go asymmetric. If we could switch out of whatever gen 5 jets we are fielding when this happens, fine. If we're overspent, not so fine.

    Heck, loitering/swarming supersonic flying drones/missiles with go back-to-home-if-unused capability (a la SpaceX boosters) would be 80% of the way there in concept. The hard limitation would then to put together sufficiently performant airframes in large enough numbers. But not having to carry, or train, a human would be a massive facilitator there.

    Disclaimer: I am well aware that, so far, Wild Weasels have tended to run rings around SAM systems. But if you can have a bot smart enough for urban combat, then I strongly believe it'd be smart enough for AA. Or at least enough not to make a massive bet against it from peer enemies.

  11. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    "cyber robots"?

    Presumably a "cyber robot" is one that includes a control system which incorporates feedback. Or, in other words, any robot. Because that is what "cyber" meant when Weiner coined "cybernetic".

    The lazy, foolish abuse of "cyber" is well-established, of course, going back to Clynes' idiotic "cyborg" neologism in 1960. But that's no reason for the Reg editors to aggravate the situation. You all can be better than the common-or-garden variety of tech journalists.

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