The Department of Defense’s (DoD) Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research and development arm of the DoD, is working on an artificial intelligence project that goes beyond the simple augmentation of work process and is focusing on the symbiosis of human and machine, according to a DARPA official.

Dr. Timothy Grayson, the director of DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office, gave a preview of and some insight on DARPA’s Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program at the AI World Government 2021 event Oct. 18.

“We’ve been pushing the notion of human-machine symbiosis,” Grayson said. “So, it’s not getting rid of the role of the human. It’s saying what are the tasks, how do we turn the human and the AI into a team. What are the tasks that the human does best, versus the task that the computer does best?”

“It’s not necessarily a sharp line of demarcation, but it is something that we at least come up with sort of a figurative, a qualitative, framework for and we refer to it as open- versus closed-worldliness,” he added.

Grayson held up the ACE program as a prime example of DARPA looking to create human-machine symbiosis using AI. One trial was done under the ACE program required DARPA scientists to teach AI how to simulate aerial dogfights.

DARPA created an e-sports style tournament with eight teams that each had their own AI dogfighting agents that went up against AI opponents of increasing complexity. This was used to create a baseline round-robin score and set up a bracket-style competition, where the winning team went on to face a human pilot.

“We wanted to create, first of all, a little buzz and excitement around the idea of applying AI to tactical missions,” Grayson said of the trials. “But we also wanted to prove that AI could do incredibly complex types of tasks that normally we think has to be a human endeavor.”

The human pilot, a volunteer weapons school instructor-certified pilot, is considered among the Air Force’s best of the best. The AI agent defeated the human pilot five-to-nothing.

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Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.