Thinking Machines & Humanity: Magic or Menace?
I always thought of surveillance cameras as digital eyes, watching over us; protecting us by deterring (any) infiltrators. Even with cameras and photography, it has only been source of capturing cherishing moments of my life. Starting with ‘Camera Obscura’, which was first to capture images in human history - subsequent innovations made photography easier and more versatile. I remember my childhood when we used to capture images with roll film cameras. Later on, digital photography captured and stored images as a computer file ready for further digital processing. Starting around 2000, digital cameras were incorporated in cell phones. They became widespread particularly due to their connectivity to social media websites and email. From point-and-shoot to Digital Single-lens Reflex (DSLR) camera, the imaging technology kept advancing and nearly stunted common mind. Ironically, that is how each technological revolution has transformed course of human history; from daily peaceful application to military operationalization.
Today, the cameras are the richest digital sensors available to humans for detecting physical, chemical, or biological property quantities and convert them into readable signal. Because of smartphones, the image sensors capture a lot of information. From an image, humans may infer 25 signals today. In near future, one will be able to infer 100 or 150 signals from the same image and detect more important and relevant information. Unquestionably, AI in cameras are here to stay. The Machine Learning (ML) and AI are helping the Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras to analyze what humans do in real time, creating a new and powerful form of automated surveillance.
AI surveillance is creeping slowly into societies around the world. With companies spending nearly US$ 20 billion on AI products and services annually, tech giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon spending billions to create those products and services, universities making AI a more prominent part of their respective curricula (MIT alone is investing US$ 1 billion on a new college devoted solely to computing, with an AI focus), and the US Department of Defense upping its AI game, big things are bound to happen.
AI is being used to manage and fight COVID-19 as well. China, for example, has focused increasingly on greater use of AI to identify, track and forecast outbreaks, diagnose the virus, drones to deliver medical supplies and robots to sterilize, deliver food and supplies in order to reduce human to human contact. Terra Drone used its Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to transport medical samples and quarantine material with minimal risk between Xinchang County’s disease control centre and the People’s Hospital. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba also built an AI-powered diagnosis system they claim is 96% accurate at diagnosing the virus in seconds. Similar technology powers ‘Smart Helmets’ were used by officials in Sichuan province to identify people with fevers.
The Chinese government has also developed a monitoring system called ‘Health Code’ that uses big data to identify and assesses the risk of each individual based on their travel history, time they have spent in virus hotspots, and potential exposure to people carrying the virus.
Though, AI is developed to assess and respond to problems with minimum human supervision; it is also speedily becoming the center of the global power play in the competition to lead the emerging technology race and the futuristic warfare battleground. As seen across many nations, the development in Autonomous Weapons Systems(AWSs) is progressing. It brings complex security challenges for not only each nation’s decision makers but also for the future of humanity. South Asia, comprising of two nuclear rival states demands a stable strategic environment which requires a considerable level of risk assessment and management. ML and big data analysis are some already adopted strategies in South Asia to maximize detection and tracking ability of adversary’s aggressive posturing. Greater reliance on advanced AI-supported defence technology provides a win-win strategic advantage to one adversary over the other. India does not want to miss the bus in the new global arms race to develop AI powered weapon and surveillance systems for futuristic wars. India as the fifth-largest defence budget spender in the world had established a high-level Defence AI Council (DAIC) tasked to provide strategic direction towards the adoption of AI in defence. During the inauguration speech at the DefExpo 2020, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India will develop at least 25 products related to AI in the defence field in the next five years. It shows that India is reviewing changes in its military doctrines in accordance with the AWSs.
The reality today is that AI is leading us toward a new algorithmic warfare battlefield that has no boundaries or borders.
As far as Pakistan’s defence policy and its unique security situation in the region is concerned, it should keep its options open to develop AWSs. With the possibility of research to merge AI with undersea, surface ships, Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs), drones, and cyber technologies, keeping an eye on this upcoming battlefield is a need of the hour. One must remain mindful of increasing technological innovations as Russian President Vladimir Putin puts it, “whoever becomes the leader in AI will become the ruler of the world.”