The Art of War, written in the 5th century B.C. by Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, is inarguably one the most definitive and significant military essays ever composed. Within the fictional 13 chapters, Tzu lays out the principles of warfare, stating: “There are five essentials for victory: He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.”
In other words, knowledge is the crucible from which all tactical plans—both defense and offense—arise. In ancient times, however, the gathering of information was limited to troops on the ground who relayed messages from post to post on horseback. But, with Tzu's warning that, “There is no instance of a country having benefitted from prolonged warfare,” emperors, kings, and military leaders throughout history have never ceased in their efforts to advance the means of communicating—in both times of war and periods of peace—to expedite victory.
Know the Enemy and Know Thyself
Through a long lineage of rulers, Tzu's military treatise along with its principles have remained relatively intact—and a mainstay of powerful leaders. Only the tools have changed. With history as a guide, military forces in particular have come to understand the fallibility of humans in making critical decisions, taking spontaneous action with precision, and remaining loyal to a nation. Consider Benedict Arnold, the American Revolutionary War general who defected to the British Army, or Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor for the U.S. government who in 2013 copied and leaked classified national security information.
Though intelligent, a wide range of external factors and internal emotions can influence—and obscure—an individual's judgement, resulting in the failure of a mission, or worse, the unnecessary loss of troops, as well as valuable time and resources.
With so much at stake and too great a margin for error, new technologies are being developed and continuously refined to assist government organizations and armed forces. They range from unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) powered by next-generation low-wattage CPUs such as Advantech’s SOM-7569 to mission-critical server modules like Advantech’s SOM-5992, the first to market with the Intel Xeon Processor D-1500, coupled to 64 GB of memory.
Advantech’s SOM-5992 server module.
The New Realities of Science Fiction
With profoundly intelligent capabilities, experts agree the military industrial complex has finally caught up with science fiction. In a special report in The Economist (January 25, 2018), future warfare experts weigh in on the role of artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), big-data analytics, machine learning, and robotics in producing not only advanced weapons, but also entire networks of interconnected computing systems. All of these would have a range of autonomous capabilities, from technologies operating independently to collaborating with humans. In the report, Frank Hoffman, a Senior Research Fellow at National Defense University who in 2007 penned Conflict in the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid Wars, proposes that the most critical factor in the future of the frontlines may come down to algorithms.
Until now, weapons such as torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles had only a partial degree of autonomy but not complete. Today, autonomous weapons and communications systems are increasingly meeting the requirements of the Defense Science Board, a committee of civilian experts appointed to advise the U.S. Department of Defense. The Board defines autonomy as "the capability to independently compose and select among different courses of action to accomplish goals based on its knowledge and understanding of the world, itself, and the situation.”
Succinctly stated in a January 2017 research paper titled Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Warfare, written by Mary Cummings, Duke University's director of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory and Duke Robotics, an autonomous system constructs a world model and has the ability to update that model in real time. Thus, it provides the advantage of clear decision-making on the fly—minus the distraction of human emotions such as fear or doubt.
The Potential to Benefit Mankind
In addition to ruggedized industrial commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computing components optimized to support long-term programs, a wide range of embedded automation computing building blocks (e.g., industrial displays, wireless modules, flash storage, and memory and embedded software) are quickly ushering in Industry 4.0 and the fourth generation of warfare while assisting with national security.
Many may argue the likes of American futurist Raymond Kurzweil, who predicts a singularity is near, where artificial intelligence will surpass humans and integrate with humanity. However, leading technology companies have already engineered some of the most advanced designs, components, and testing capabilities that are advancing the next-generation defense programs. More important, these IoT systems and tools have the real potential to benefit mankind and perhaps eliminate the need for troops on the ground altogether.