If you're wondering just how advanced artificial intelligence (AI) systems are getting, then know this: the US military is testing an experimental AI network tasked with identifying likely future events worthy of closer attention, and days before they occur.
The series of tests are called the Global Information Dominance Experiments (GIDE), and they combine data from a huge variety of sources, including satellite imagery, intelligence reports, sensors in the field, radar, and more.
Cloud computing also plays an important part in this setup, making sure that vast chunks of data collected from all over the world can be processed efficiently, and then accessed by whichever military officials and agencies need them.
"GIDE, the Global Information Dominance Experiments, embodies a fundamental change in how we use information and data to increase decision space for leaders from the tactical level to the strategic level – not only military leaders, but [it] also gives opportunity for our civilian leaders," US Air Force General Glen D. VanHerck explained in a press briefing last week.
The idea is to anticipate the moves of other nations way ahead of time, which means deterrents and precautions can be put in place before the fighting starts, or before hostilities have a chance to ramp up.
In fact, the jumps in logic aren't as huge as you might think – if preparations are being made for a submarine to leave port, for example, then it's fairly obvious it's on its way out to sea. Where the AI really helps is in using machine learning to spot and collate all this information much more quickly than human operatives can.
Another example is the number of cars in a car park, at a military base or research station perhaps. If the AI sees increased activity, it can flag this to other parts of the system, where it's then analyzed as part of a massive data set.
"The data exists," said VanHerck. "What we're doing is making that data available, making that data available and shared into a cloud where machine learning and artificial intelligence look at it. And they process it really quickly and provide it to decision-makers, which I call decision superiority."
"This gives us days of advanced warning and ability to react. Where, in the past, we may not have put eyes on with an analyst of a GEOINT satellite image, now we are doing that within minutes or near real-time."
Understandably, the US isn't giving too much away about how exactly these new AI systems work, or how they process the information they're gathering, but the end result is more data processed in a quicker time. This third set of GIDE testing was recently completed, and a fourth is planned.
While the experiments sound a bit Minority Report at the moment – people being arrested for crimes before they've been committed – officials are framing them as a form of supercharged information gathering, rather than ways to actually see into the future.
VanHerck stresses that humans are still making all the decisions based on the data that the machine-learning systems produce – and says the AI under development will likely end up de-escalating situations, rather than the opposite.
"The ability to see days in advance creates decision space," said VanHerck. "Decision space for me as an operational commander to potentially posture forces to create deterrence options to provide that to the secretary or even the President."