China Is Developing AI-Enabled Nuclear Submarines That Can Think For Themselves
via Stephen Chen of Technocracy News
A submarine with AI-augmented brainpower not only would give China’s large navy an upper hand in battle under the world’s oceans but would push applications of AI technology to a new level, according to the researcher, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the project’s sensitivity.
“Though a submarine has enormous power of destruction, its brain is actually quite small,” the researcher said.
While a nuclear submarine depends on the skill, experience and efficiency of its crew to operate effectively, the demands of modern warfare could introduce variables that would cause even the smoothest-run operation to come unglued.
For instance, if the 100 to 300 people in the sub’s crew were forced to remain together in their canister in deep, dark water for months, the rising stress level could affect the commanding officers’ decision-making powers, even leading to bad judgment.
An AI decision-support system with “its own thoughts” would reduce the commanding officers’ workload and mental burden, according to the researcher.
The possibility of AI having a prominent role in nuclear submarines – through the work of Chinese scientists – is a milestone both for China and the technology.
Since the first nuclear submarines appeared in the early 1950s, produced by the US, they have ranked among the most sophisticated war machines. It can take as long as two decades for a nuclear sub to progress from an idea on a blueprint to the finished product, sliding down a slipway.
But the subs’ computer brains have generally been out of sync with their state-of-the-art image.
First, the technology in most submarine computers tends to predate the vessel’s commissioning. Furthermore, military-grade electronic components have required extensive battle-hardening to withstand shocks, heat or electromagnetic disturbance, sacrificing speed for reliability.
Up till now, the “thinking” function on a nuclear sub, including interpreting and answering signals picked up by sonar, a system for detecting objects under water by emitting sound pulses, has been handled almost exclusively by human naval personnel, not by machines.
Now, through AI technology, a convolutional neural network undergirds so-called machine learning. This structure underpins a decision support system that can acquire knowledge, improve skills and develop new strategy without human intervention.
By mimicking the workings of the human brain, the system can process a large amount of data. On a nuclear submarine, data could come from the Chinese navy’s rapidly increasing observation networks, the submarine’s own sensors or daily interactions with the crew.
An AI assistant could support commanding officers by assessing the battlefield environment, providing insight into how levels of saline in the ocean and water temperature might affect the accuracy of sonar systems.
It also could recognise and flag threats from an enemy faster and more accurately than human operators.
An AI assist also could help commanding officers estimate the risks and benefits of certain combat manoeuvres, even suggesting moves not considered by the vessel’s captain.