Humanoid robots, armed with lethal weapons, to guard the long borders with Pakistan and China? Or, unmanned tanks, submarines and aircraft to take the battle to the enemy? Well, all this as of now may be in the realm of pure science fiction for India, which does not even have aerial combat drones.
But India does not want to miss the bus in the new global arms race to develop artificial intelligence(AI)-powered weapon and surveillance systems for futuristic wars. The country's defence establishment is now working towards harnessing the expertise of the information technology industry and academia in this arena, taking a cue from countries like the US and China that are focusing on AI and MI (machine learning) to develop lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS). The critical need to be prepared for this new revolution in military affairs was even stressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the DefExpo in Chennai last month. "New and emerging technologies like AI and Robotics will perhaps be the most important determinants of defensive and offensive capabilities for any defence force in the future. India, with its leadership in information technology domain, would strive to use this technology tilt to its advantage," he said.
But it will take a lot of doing. The government is banking on a multi-stakeholder taskforce, which was set up in February, to formulate a concrete strategy and framework for "employment of AI for national security and defence needs" in the years ahead.
"The taskforce will make recommendations on how to make India a significant power in AI, in terms of both offensive and defensive needs, especially in aviation, naval, land systems, cyber, nuclear and biological warfare arenas. Initial tenders or RFIs (requests for information) will be floated over the next two years on dual-use AI capabilities," said an official.
Concurrently, DRDO's Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR) is also trying to develop different kinds of intelligent robots, but clearly much more needs to be done. India, of course, also needs to take cognizance of the entire ethical debate on LAWS because critics argue they could violate humanitarian principles by having the capability to autonomously select and destroy targets without human intervention.