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Will artificial intelligence replace military pilots or rather team with them? “I don’t see human pilots being phased out, I see them being enhanced, not physically, but I see their work, their effectiveness being enhanced by cooperation with artificial intelligence systems,” said Mark Lewis, the Pentagon’s director of research and engineering for modernization.

This statement comes only a few weeks after an artificial intelligence algorithm defeated a human pilot in a simulated dogfight between F-16 jets at the AlphaDogfight Trials in August.

The AI-human pilot competition was hosted by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. as part of its human-machine teaming efforts, a subset of the Air Combat Evolution program, or ACE. The program is using human-machine collaborative dogfighting to increase trust in combat autonomy, and the goal is for it to scale to more complex multi-aircraft scenarios to pave the way for live, campaign-level experimentation.

“The key takeaway from that was that the artificial intelligence system did so well because it wasn’t so concerned about self-preservation, it was willing to do things that a human pilot wouldn’t do. And that’s the advantage of artificial intelligence,” Lewis said. “I think the real answer is teaming AI with a human for the best combination of both.”

DARPA foresees a single human pilot serving as a mission commander in a manned aircraft, orchestrating multiple autonomous, unmanned platforms that would all be engaged in individual tactics. ACE would ultimately deliver that capability. “ACE, therefore, seeks to create a hierarchical framework for autonomy in which higher-level cognitive functions (e.g., developing an overall engagement strategy, selecting and prioritizing targets, determining best weapon or effect, etc.) may be performed by a human, while lower-level functions (i.e., details of aircraft maneuver and engagement tactics) is left to the autonomous system,” DARPA spokesman said, according to