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The military and the machine

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Autonomous systems (AS) and artificial intelligence (AI) are already widely recognised as ‘disruptive’ in civilian spheres. Technologies with military applications are not exempt: the ways of war will also undergo technological disruption due to advances in AI, deep learning and AS. In the US, this has become the focal point of the Defense Innovation Initiative. Regardless of how the Trump administration chooses to continue the initiative at large, 2017 will be a decisive year simply because the current Pentagon directive on ‘autonomy in weapons systems’ will reach its expiration date, and also because research and development (R&D) funding from the ‘third offset strategy’ is expected to enter into the US defence budget. In Europe, 2017 also represents a tide of change with the Preparatory Action on CSDP-related research, through which the EU will provide defence R&D funding for the first time. To stay competitive and prevent the transatlantic technology gap from widening further, it is worth exploring how autonomous systems and AI could impact future military capabilities and organisations.