The IDF sees artificial intelligence as the key to modern-day survival

In today’s world, using the latest technology is a matter of survival. The IDF’s Sigma branch’s purpose is to develop, research, and implement the latest in artificial intelligence and advanced software research in order to keep the IDF up to date.

Developing Artificial Intelligence for the IDF

Led by Lt. Col. Nurit Cohen Inger, the branch is focusing on developing artificial intelligence capabilities like machine learning, deep learning, video analysis, and smart chatbots for military applications. “The goal is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the IDF,” she said. “We don’t develop technology for technology’s sake. We look for ways to make a real impact.”

Lt. Col. Nurit Cohen Inger, Head of the IDF Sigma Branch at an IDF hackathon

The data revolution has led to massive amounts of operational data being collected from cameras, microphones, networks, information systems, and devices. The IDF data science teams are working to organize, classify, and then to use the data to bring valuable insights back to the field and to optimize the use of IDF resources.

Why the IDF needs artificial intelligence

Soldiers in the IDF can’t physically keep up with the amount of incoming data. For example, a person can only watch one video at a time.  Using AI, computers can analyze hundreds of videos at a time and automatically flag suspicious activity. Recent IDF research has shown early promise in using this technology to protect Israel’s borders.

As AI becomes more and more accurate, it will have a greater impact on the IDF’s operational activity. “There are three stages of AI,” explained Lt. Col. Cohen Inger. “There is descriptive AI, where the computer can understand context and identify and classify data. There is predictive AI, where the computer then predicts the impact of the data. Finally, there is perspective AI, where the computer can make intelligent choices based off its predictions. Right now, we’ve mastered the first stage, and are working on more advanced AI.”

So, where is all this artificial intelligence leading us?

Lt. Col. Cohen Inger sees great potential in chatbot development. “The world is moving away from traditional applications to conversational systems. It’s easier to speak to a bot with your natural language, and have it understand and do exactly what you need.” she said.

Ultimately, the goal is to create smart chatbots within the IDF’s “Whatsapp-like” messaging application which was developed and released last year. “The chatbots will fully participate and will bring valuable insights to your conversations.”

IDF programmers

The C4I Directorate is eyeing the future of the “connected soldier”. They envision a future where every soldier is equipped with a variety of connected cameras, sensors, and devices. “We’ll be able to know their exact location and medical condition. We’ll have a precise understanding of everything going on in the battlefield,” Lt. Col. Nurit Cohen said. “We’ll be able to use AI to analyze all this incoming data and make better informed decisions.”

The challenges in unlocking the power of artificial intelligence

But the IDF faces multiple challenges in unlocking the power of AI and big data analytics. The mission requires highly talented and qualified engineers, often with a graduate degree in Data Science or Computer Engineering and a background in high level computer science research. The C4I Directorate is constantly recruiting, training, and developing soldiers with the necessary skill set.

Additionally, we need to collect meaningful data. The sea of incoming data doesn’t matter if it isn’t the right data to answer the right questions. Asking the right questions is a challenge of its own. The branch requires operational insights from the field to better understand what problems AI and big data analytics can solve.

The impact will grow over time. “It’s a new frontier. It needs to be implemented in steps until it reaches its full potential,” Lt. Col. Nurit Cohen said.


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