- The Washington Times - Monday, June 8, 2020

The U.S. Air Force is gearing up for a head-to-head showdown between its pilots and autonomous drones.

Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, head of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, recently spoke about the training milestone scheduled for July 2021 during a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event.

Efforts to bring the scenario to fruition are being led by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) team.

Team leader Steve Rogers, a senior scientist at AFRL, “is probably going to have a hard time getting to that flight next year … when the machine beats the human,” the general said June 4, Air Force Magazine reported. “If he does it, great.”

The planned event is just one of several initiatives the Air Force has to fully realize A.I.’s potential.

In late May, for instance, the government’s acquisition and awards website allowed companies to officially vie for $400 million contracts as part of the “Skyborg” program.

Military observers have humorously likened the plan to creating something out of a “Star Wars” movie — an R2-D2-inspired tool for pilots.

“Our human pilots, the really good ones, have a couple [of] thousand hours of experience,” the scientist told Inside Defense in May 2018. “What happens if I can augment their ability with a system that can have literally millions of hours of training time? … How can I make myself a tactical autopilot so in an air-to-air fight, this system could help make decisions on a timeline that humans can’t even begin to think about?”

• Douglas Ernst can be reached at dernst@washingtontimes.com.

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