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Allies and Artificial Intelligence: Obstacles to Operations and Decision-Making

Artificial intelligence (AI) promises to increase military efficiency, but also poses unique challenges to multinational military operations and decision-making that scholars and policymakers have yet to explore. The data- and resource-intensive nature of AI development creates barriers to burden-sharing and interoperability that can hamper multinational operations. By accelerating the speed of combat and providing adversaries with a tool to heighten mistrust between allies, AI can also strain the complex processes that allies and security partners use to make decisions. To overcome these challenges and prepare for AI-enabled warfare, policymakers need to develop institutional, procedural, and technical solutions that streamline decision-making and enhance interoperability.

In June 2019, the United States announced a new artificial intelligence (AI) partnership with Singapore that calls for collaboration on the development and use of AI technologies in the national security domain.1 Is this type of cooperation a harbinger of things to come? The burgeoning military use of AI — technology that carries out tasks that normally require human intelligence — has the potential to alter how states carry out military operations. AI-enabled technologies — like autonomous drone swarms and algorithms that quickly sift through massive amounts of information — can increase the speed and efficiency of warfare, but they may also exacerbate the coordination and decision-making challenges frequently associated with multinational military operations carried out by allies and security partners.

Policymakers and experts in the United States and other countries have urged international cooperation on the development and use of AI, but this guidance overlooks important questions about the challenges of AI collaboration in the security domain. President Donald Trump’s executive order on AI directs “enhance[ed] international and industry collaboration with foreign partners and allies” to maintain “American leadership in AI.”2 Similarly, the congressionally chartered National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence warns, “If the United States and its allies do not coordinate early and often on AI-enabled capabilities, the effectiveness of our military coalitions will suffer.”3 Several of Washington’s allies have echoed these calls for collaboration. Germany’s 2019 National AI Strategy advocates for “work[ing] with the nations leading in this field … to conduct joint bilateral and/or multilateral R&D activities on the development and use of AI.”4 While cooperation is important, what challenges might allies and partners encounter as they work together to develop and deploy AI in the military domain? And what steps might states take to overcome these obstacles?

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Copyright 2019 John B. Wells