I like to think I’m a “young” 45. My daughters, of course, would say otherwise.
And when I reflect on the fact that my first thoughts upon hearing the acronym “AI” turn to “Allen Iverson,” now long retired from the NBA, I’m forced to concede their point.
I am indeed “Old Man Dittman.”
At the same time, I do like to at least try to keep up with the young ‘uns.
So lately I’ve developed a fascination with/fan-boy crush on Psibernetix Inc. – a private company (for now) whose ALPHA (artificial intelligence programmed to fly fighter jets) has beaten several “top guns” in dogfight simulations.
ALPHA was developed by Psibernetix founder and doctoral candidate Nick Ernest, in conjunction with colleagues from the University of Cincinnati and scientists at the Air Force Research Laboratory. It uses “fuzzy logic” to determine proper maneuvers to employ and identify appropriate targets to engage.
Although the concept had been studied since the 1920s, the term “fuzzy logic” was coined by Dr. Lotfi Zadeh, a mathematician, computer scientist, electrical engineer, artificial intelligence researcher, and professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley.
Dr. Zadeh was working on the problem of computer understanding of natural language. Natural language (like most other activities in life and the universe) isn’t easily translated into the absolute terms of 0 and 1, or “crisp” values according to binary or Boolean logic.
It’s been derided in some research quarters as “the cocaine of science” because of its simplistic, non-mathematical foundation.
But “fuzzy” is probably a better characterization of the way humans think. We aggregate data and form a number of partial truths, which we aggregate further into higher truths. This causes further results, such as motor reaction, when certain thresholds are exceeded.
And the “genetic fuzzy tree” that supports ALPHA is now being used to pilot Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAVs) in the U.S. Air Force computer simulation used to test aerial tactics and weapons.
It essentially integrates “sensory” information, about both the surrounding environment as well as the aircraft, to determine the appropriate technology to generate the desired movement or action.
Right now, ALPHA is just a research tool to test manned and unmanned teams in a simulated environment.
But it’s beating out baseline AI programs used by the U.S. Air Force Research Lab, despite the fact that it doesn’t benefit from AWACS radar plane support.
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And in a simulated dogfight last October, it outperformed Colonel Gene Lee, a highly experienced fighter pilot and trainer who’s flown against AIs since the early 1980s, as well as human pilots.
When Colonel Lee flew against normal AI in simulations, he won.
But when he was up against the ALPHA AI, “not only could he [the human pilot] not score a kill against it, he was shot out of the air by the reds [computer side] every time after protracted engagements.”
Ernest won the dogfight running his “genetic fuzzy tree” on a $35 computer. Normally, fuzzy logic would take a supercomputer to run, but Ernest created a network of fuzzy systems, each solving a sub problem so it could run on a Raspberry Pi.
Ernest describes ALPHA as “a very high-tech controller for a very specific problem.”
In addition to its defense work, Psibernetix is applying its methodology to biomedical research. Ernest and his team are developing an intelligent system to analyze vast amounts of patient information to aid in their medical care.
Its first bioinformatics system, for use in neuroscience, is called LITHIA, short for the LITHium Intelligent Agent.
Some observers believe that UCAVs will one day replace manned combat aircraft and ALPHA may be the key to that future. Colonel Lee called it “the most aggressive, responsive, dynamic, and credible AI” he had ever witnessed.
At the same time, it’s unlikely to evolve into the intellectually aware robotics behind a Matrix-like rise of the machines. Thus, humanity remains safe from potential subjugation.
ALPHA is simply a way to solve extremely complex problems.
Old Things New
Okay, so this is a bit of a cheat, as Nathaniel Philbrick’s Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution was just published in May.
But it’s a great way to get in touch with the personality conflicts that shaped the outcome of the American Revolution, so in that sense it makes an “old” thing “new.”
And it’s what I’ve been reading on the beach this week at the Outer Banks.
Philbrick already addressed legendary figures and military campaigns in his publication, The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. And here, too, he provides illuminating context for familiar people and events.
We may know how it ends – but it’s a pretty fascinating journey to read in detail.
Editorial Director, Wall Street Daily