Now US scientists are developing a similar Artificial Intelligence system which may accompany all soldiers on the battlefield within just 10 years.
Like the fictional JARVIS – which stands for “Just A Rather Very Intelligent System” – the technology will allow soldiers to converse with their omniscient companion to interpret threats in the field and analyse data with lightning speed.
At the heart of the project is the need to offer troops a simple-to-use sidekick, to whom they can ask open-ended questions and receive considered answers quickly.
Development began with the Department of Defense’s Project Maven, which last year developed Artificial Intelligence technology allowing intelligence officers to quickly pore through hours and hours of drone video footage by automatically recognising 38 classes of threats.
But the fight against global terror has propelled this further, with US defence firm Polaris Alpha now developing technology that will allow soldiers to “mine” retrieved computer data quickly while on the ground, instead of sending it back to base to be analysed.
Tech giants such as Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft already offer virtual assistants, such as Siri, Alexa or Cortana, which can understand key commands and carry out instructions, such as playing your favourite song.
But the new technology goes far beyond simply using key words or phrases, said Polaris Alpha’s chief scientist, Dr Richard Hull, last night.
“Let’s say you have soldiers in the field who successfully capture a safe house. That safe house contains a lot of electronic information and they need to rapidly assess it. It could also have paper documents which need to be scanned.
“In the old days, that data would be sent back to base of even home for analysis, and it might have taken a few days or weeks.
“But the need now is to start that process straight away.”
The solution is a “Siri plus” – a system which allows any soldier to ask simple questions and get answers quickly.
“People don’t want to use software tools anymore to dig for answers. They just want the answers,” said Dr Hull.
“A simple keyword search isn’t good enough: looking for the word ‘bomb’ for instance may simply bring back 600 listings of that word. They still need to be analysed, one by one, and contextualised.
“What soldiers really need is to be able to understand what’s in the intel, and how it relates to the broad threat context.
“What we’re developing is a sort of JARVIS, something that’s like a human assistant, to whom you can give low level tasks but also ask more open ended questions and have the system converse with you to drill down on what you’re looking for.”
At its current stage the system resembles a portable “Alexa-like” box which can be mounted on the dashboard of a vehicle. It will include a simple interface that can connect with any laptop, tablet or cell phone and carry out a quick “triage scan” of any data inside, pulling out relevant intelligence.
“With this new technology that we’re developing, a Sergeant doesn’t have to be an expert with computers. Thats the point. He or she will be able to converse normally by asking questions.
“The whole value is in the autonomy. The Sergeant will ask: ‘are there any threats?’
“It’s no good for the system to simply find 1,600 names and here they are. Instead, it could detect the names of people on watch lists and say: ‘I’ve identified references to multiple terrorist organisations.
“it could also identify suspicious contexts by highlighting an email in which the sender tells the recipient: ‘I’m sending you the £1,600.’
“It can build from data it already has. To all intents and purposes, it can think.“
Ultimately scientists will be able to splice the system with other technology, such as augmented reality glasses which can offer anything from satellite feeds which warn of approaching enemy troops to schematics of a building, the likely areas where booby traps may be placed and even the heart rate of a sniper’s potential target.
And what of the Iron Man Suit? The US Army is already finding ways to militarise Lockheed Martin’s Fortis suit, an exoskeleton frame that uses AI to allow soldiers to carry 180 pounds up five flights of stairs using minimal energy. In addition, suits modified with Haptic technology can alert soldiers to immediate threats with small vibrations.
“The whole idea is to leverage the senses and capabilities that are natural to a person to create a subversive information environment that doesn’t impact on the way a soldier works,” said Dr Hull.
“The only difference between our system and JARVIS is that it isn’t weaponised.”