Obviously, the supercomputer-on-an-airship model doesn’t scale to the individual Predator drone, which doesn’t have the space or capacity to carry its own onboard processing suite. But as computer language and computer vision become more robust, storage architectures shrink, and ISR platforms change to meet the demands of the future--and all of these things are already happening--it’s not difficult to envision a day in the near future when the military finally climbs back on top of its data problem. The issue then is finding the right balance between machine reliability and human decision-making so that the armed services and intelligence community can get the most out of both.
“I always talk about keeping the human in the loop,” Modus Operandi’s Barrett says. “There are always judgment calls that have to be made. But if I look across popular culture and I look at the continuing development of artificial intelligence--I watch a computer win on Jeopardy--I start to think of tremendous possibilities that exist.”The artificial intelligence piece is integral to making the future of ISR a reality. Future drones will have the ability to gather more sensor data than ever before, process that data in near real-time, and make determinations about what information is relevant to the fight at hand so that it can be immediately downlinked and brought to human attention. The rest will be tagged with metadata and carefully filed away so human analysts can call it up with simple language queries later.
In other words, we’ll be relying heavily on machines to do a good deal of the leg-work, as well as to make some low-level judgment calls. In situations where lives hang in the balance, such reliance on technology may be troubling, but it’s more or less the only way forward in a data deluged battle space.
“Between the birth of the world and 2003, there were five exabytes of information that were created,” Deptula says. “We now create five exabytes every two days, and that’s accelerating. So this large data problem is significant, and we’re not going to solve it by continuing to do data management the way we have been up to this point in time.”
From that perspective, not only can technology save the U.S. military from its technology, but it’s probably the only hope.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.