AI Controlled Aircraft on the Way?

An AI test pilot has successfully flown a jet fighter in dogfights against human opponents. It’s the latest development for DARPA’s Air Combat Evaluation program, which is trying to develop aerospace AI agents that can be trusted to perform safely.

By September 2023, the program had completed 21 test flights, including the first-ever AI versus human aerial engagement within visual range, flying against a human-piloted F-16. During that time, DARPA says the team made over 100,000 lines of flight-critical software changes, which it called “an unprecedented rate of development.”

That’s certainly an achievement, but just focusing on the dogfight is a mistake, according to Gray. “That misses the point. Dogfighting was the problem to solve so we could start testing autonomous artificial intelligence systems in the air, but every lesson we’re learning applies to every task we can give to an autonomous system,” he said.

William Gray, chief test pilot of VISTA and the USAF Test Pilot School

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