Man Plus Machine

The Air Force is working to find the right balance of humans and machines to meet future operational challenges, the service’s top scientist told a House Armed Services subcommittee on Nov. 19. “The goal is to have human autonomy teams operate in high tempo, uncertain, and complex decision environments, where humans and machines can work together effectively, efficiently, predictably, and robustly,” said Greg Zacharias. And while sensors and motors are important parts of many autonomous systems, Zacharias said the real advances now are happening in embedded “smarts,” the technology that tell systems how to act based on various conditions. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), chairman of the HASC subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities, said the need for autonomous systems is obvious. “Many of us recognize that our military is not large enough, and it is not likely to grow sufficiently over the next few years to handle all of the threats we face,” he said. “On top of this, shrinking budgets will shrink our military, stretching our men, women, and platforms even further to be able to accomplish their ever-changing missions.” (Zacharias prepared testimony.) (Read Autonomous Horizons, a report released in June from the Office of the Chief Scientist.)