WASHINGTON — Two NATO agencies recently kicked off an artificial intelligence initiative to better understand the technology and its potential warfare applications.

More than 80 AI experts, researchers and academics from the U.S. and other member countries are involved with the venture, known as a strategic “horizon scanning,” put together by the NATO Science and Technology Organization and the NATO Communications and Information Agency.

An inaugural meeting and workshop was held this month in The Hague, Netherlands, where the NCI Agency’s data science and AI facilities are located.

“AI is one of the key emerging and disruptive technologies identified by NATO as vital for the maintenance of its technological edge,” NATO Chief Scientist Bryan Wells said in a statement. “By working together, the STO and the NCI Agency are able to bring together global experts to ensure the very best scientific expertise is available to advise NATO and its allies and partners on the latest scientific trends in this area.”

The NATO guarantee of a collective defense and the advantage of numbers, both on the battlefield and in the lab, has been much discussed amid Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent membership applications made by Finland and Sweden.

NATO ministers in October adopted the alliance’s first-ever AI strategy, which describes the capability as “changing the global defense and security environment” and offering “an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen our technological edge but will also escalate the speed of the threats we face.”

The strategy emphasizes responsible use of AI for defense across six tenets: lawfulness; responsibility and accountability; explainability and traceability; reliability; governability; and bias mitigation.

AI frameworks and other guidance drafted by the U.S. and its defense community take a similar approach.

NATO allies in 2019 agreed to focus on seven emerging and disruptive technologies, data, computing and AI among them. Making sure there are shared standards, and that systems will work with systems, will be critical to success, officials said.

“One of the big challenges when we go into this new phase of disruptive technologies is how do you keep all allies on the same hymn sheet when it comes down to communicating with each other, using the same technology, being interoperable,” David van Weel, NATO assistant secretary general for emerging security challenges, told Defense News in March 2021. “So that’s a big part [of the strategy] and a big role for NATO to play.”

Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its NNSA — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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