Sept. 10 (UPI) -- The Pentagon plans to conduct live trials pitting tactical aircraft controlled by artificial intelligence against human pilots, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday.
He also said the United States' AI will be governed by ethics that power rivals like Russia and China lack, and will coordinate AI strategy with nearly a dozen democratic allies in a new partnership.
The comments were made during the Pentagon's first AI conference, which was held virtually this week, as the military looks to develop and integrate new technology ahead of the country's competitors.
Esper said the Department of Defense would test an AI pilot in a fighter by 2024, at least partially because the military wants to develop systems that can fly fighter aircraft without human pilots.
"The AI agent's resounding victory demonstrated the ability of advanced algorithms to outperform humans in virtual dogfights. These simulations will culminate in a real-world competition involving full-scale tactical aircraft in 2024," Esper said.
An AI program that beat a veteran human pilot in the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's virtual trials in August will now begin testing actual fighter aircraft, Esper said.
But Esper also said the military is not looking to replace human judgment and control in combat operations, only to augment them.
Breaking Defense reported that DARPA would hand the program, called Air Combat Evolution and developed by Heron Systems, to the Air Force in 2024, but declined to describe the events as a "competition" between humans and AI. Officials instead said the pilots would work together as partners in "human-machine teaming."
The ACE system was notably aggressive and accurate, but not perfect -- making errors in basic fighter maneuvers like turning away from enemy aircraft to where it thought the other aircraft would go.
And Col. Dan Javorsek, program manager in DARPA's Strategic Technology Office, said the AI had information that might not be available in a real combat scenario.
"There are a lot caveats and disclaimers to add in here," Javorsek told C4ISRNet.