An artificial brain may sound like something out of science fiction, but according to The Verge, it’s on the horizon, thanks to a number of clandestine projects headed by government agencies. The secret project was thrust into the limelight after an Air Force official and a National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency executive hosted a panel on “Enterprise Disruption” at the 2019 Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.
During the panel, Chirag Parikh, director of the NGA’s Office of Sciences and Methodologies, was asked when their technology would have near-instantaneous understanding and strategy development.
“If not now,” he replied, “very soon.”
Though Parikh did not discuss the matter further, newly released top-secret documents suggest that the autonomous, real-time interpretation technology is being created by a government project named Sentient. Sentient, which is under the branch of the National Reconnaissance Office, aims to be an “omnivorous analysis tool,” which can understand and analyze data to link together the past and present, as well as possibly anticipating the future. It would, in essence, take the place of a human analyst.
For the NGA specifically, this means that Sentient would direct satellites toward what it believes will be the “most interesting” aspects of the future — basically meaning satellites would know ahead of time what data they should be collecting and what it means. But for the intelligence and defense community at large, it has exciting potential. It could be the link between the many areas of intelligence, creating an analysis of what satellites and human chatter and other forms collected by the government mean all together, and could even be a tool during battles.
Though not much is known about Sentient, the recent documents show that it started development in 2010 and hit a “milestone” in 2013, though what that milestone may be remains a mystery as the files are redacted. The government is also almost finished with the program, meaning the first big move toward artificial intelligence is almost here.
“It ingests high volumes of data and processes it,” said deputy director of NRO’s Office of Public Affairs Karen Furgerson of the project.
“Sentient catalogs normal patterns, detects anomalies, and helps forecast and model adversaries’ potential courses of action.”
“Sentient is a thinking system,” she concluded of the project.
However, leaving the many aspects of government intelligence and defense under the auspices of an artificial brain could also have potentially dangerous consequences. As already seen with automation within big tech, it is not immune from bias. The Verge adds that technology under Sentient could not only come to “dubious” conclusions, but it could also violate privacy and raise civil liberties issues.