Artificial Intelligence Program ‘ALPHA’ Bests Air Force Combat Expert

You thought losing the highest scorer ranking on your Ms. Pac-man cocktail arcade table was disappointing. What if you were one of the top combat fighter trainers in the Air Force and you were beaten by a computer in a simulation training exercise?

Of course, for retired United States Air Force Colonel Gene Lee, a loss is really a win. ALPHA, the name of the artificial intelligence program in question, is set to become a major help to Air Force pilots in combat situations by controlling unmanned aircraft and offering tactical support.

ALPHA’s Origins

ALPHA was developed by Psibernetix, a company founded by Nick Earnest, a University of Cincinnati graduate, in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory. ALPHA’s programming is called a “genetic fuzzy tree.”

The system assesses tasks in the same way a human would by breaking down big tasks into small tasks and evaluating variables before making decisions. The only difference? It completes processing much faster than a human. In fact, ALPHA has the capability of calculating the best combat fighting maneuvers 250 times faster than you can blink.

The Test After facing ALPHA in simulation tests, Lee called the program “the most aggressive, responsive, dynamic and credible AI I’ve seen to date,” and Lee has been facing AI programs since the 1980s. Even though Lee has a long resume of combat fighter experience, has trained with thousands of other USAF pilots and has graduated from U.S. Fighter Weapons School, he was unable to score a single kill against ALPHA in the test simulation. He was shot down every time.

The Goal

Ultimately, ALPHA is being developed to assist pilots in combat fighting scenarios. ALPHA would be the wingman to the pilot, controlling unmanned aircraft and providing tactical advice as the scenario unfolds. One of the most shocking facts about ALPHA is that it needs very little processing power. ALPHA can function smoothly on a $500 consumer-grade computer.

Artificial intelligence is becoming less the stuff of science fiction and integrating more into everyday life, or at least the lives of Air Force fighter pilots more every day.