Book Review: Four Battlegrounds by Paul Scharre (AI Defense Applications)


From Dr Hamid Hussain

Recently did a book review of an excellent book about AI use in defense realm.


 Book Review –   “Four Battlegrounds” by Paul Scharre

 “Four Battlegrounds” by Paul Scharre is a fascinating account of emerging technologies especially Artificial Intelligence (AI) in military affairs and modern warfare. New technologies from the invention of gun powder, artillery, automobile, airplane, tank, and submarine have propelled revolution in military affairs throughout human history. The first computer-based model was used by the Russian military known as the Unified Command and Control System (UCS). It was developed during the late 1960s and became operational in the Soviet Armed Forces in the mid-1970s. It integrated various data sources, such as radar, satellite imagery, and communications, to provide comprehensive real-time information about the tactical and operational situation to military commanders. Since then, computer technology has penetrated every aspect of military activity.

 Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly evolving and changing the military culture and has the potential of revolutionizing various aspects of warfare. AI assists in analyzing vast amounts of data collected by military sensors, satellites, and intelligence sources. By utilizing machine learning algorithms, AI can identify patterns, detect trends, and extract actionable intelligence from large data sets, supporting decision-making processes in a shorter time span. AI enables the development of autonomous systems operating on land, air, and sea, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), and autonomous submarines. These systems can perform surveillance, reconnaissance, and even combat missions without human intervention, reducing risks to personnel.


AI is also employed in the development of what is called ‘intelligent weapons systems’. AI algorithms help improve targeting accuracy, optimize trajectories, and enhance overall effectiveness. This information can then be used to make better-informed decisions, AI algorithms can also be used to monitor and analyze data from military equipment, enabling predictive maintenance. By predicting failures and recommending maintenance actions, AI helps increase equipment reliability, reduce downtime, and enhance operational readiness.

 AI has a crucial role in military cybersecurity to detect and respond to cyber threats. AI systems can analyze large amounts of data, identify patterns, and detect anomalies that can prevent and mitigate cyber-attacks. AI’s role in training is developing sophisticated simulation tools for military training purposes. AI-based training systems can be used to simulate realistic combat scenarios, allowing soldiers to hone their skills in a safe and controlled environment. This technology can also be used in medical evaluation and ordnance disposal saving human lives.

 In addition to many limitations of technology in human conflict, use of AI in the military also raises ethical and legal considerations, such as ensuring appropriate human oversight and control, minimizing risk of collateral damage, and addressing potential biases in decision-making algorithms. The major challenge is the need for ethical guidelines and regulations to govern the development and use of AI in military contexts as different cultures have different perspectives.

 The book gives use of emerging technologies in four battlegrounds of the future: land, sea, air, and cyberspace. Scharre expertly navigates through each domain, providing readers with a comprehensive understanding of how traditional and unconventional warfare are being reshaped by advancements in technology. Scharre uses case studies to explain these technologies that are shaping the battlefield and changing the dynamics of conflict.

 Scharre is well qualified to discuss the subject in depth in view of his own career in the military, defense policy and technology sector. He is familiar with the terrain of all three areas as he a former U.S. Army Ranger who have served tour of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, served as policy advisor in Pentagon and familiar with the culture of technology companies at the forefront of groundbreaking work on defense application of AI.

 Schare is not a disciple of ‘tech mania’ and presents a balanced view providing an insightful analysis of opportunities presented by emerging technologies while at the same time highlighting the limitations as well as potential dangers. He also addresses the moral dilemmas faced by policymakers, military leaders, and soldiers on the ground. He examines the challenges of adhering to international laws and conventions while leveraging cutting-edge capabilities and the potential for unintended consequences in an interconnected world.

 There will be fierce competition between United States and China to develop and implement the game-changing technology of AI in military domain and the winner will dominate the future. We hope that humans don’t repeat the history that in their quest for domination focus only on destructive creativity ignoring constructive creativity. Humans invented weapons for industrial scale carnage of First World War managing to kill about 18 million humans of all races, religions, and ethnicities in four long years. 1918, God reminded them what he can do by sending influenza pandemic that killed 21 million people globally in four short months. He has sent a signal in 2022 in the form of COVID-19 that should encourage reflection by all powers obsessed with global domination only through coercive means.

 Paul Scharre. Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (New York: W. W. Norton), 2023


Hamid Hussain

20 May 2023

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Omar Ali

I am a physician interested in obesity and insulin resistance, and in particular in the genetics and epigenetics of obesity As a blogger, I am more interested in history, Islam, India, the ideology of Pakistan, and whatever catches my fancy. My opinions can change.

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