How Artificial Intelligence is Saving Veterans' Lives Despite AI Controversy

The wide proliferation of Artificial Intelligence has led to a new problem: autonomous weapons that can attack on targets without human intervention. But, the technology is equally capable of improving our lives.
Kashyap Vyas
The SimSensei program is a partnership with USC and DARPA that can read expressions on the faces of veterans and better diagnose clinical depressive issues.SimSensei USC

Artificial intelligence and weaponry -- it's a match made for the future of wartime. However, the tech which sounds like it's ripped from a best-selling sci-fi novel is a real threat, according to governments around the globe. Thus, there has been an increasing global effort to discuss using AI on the battlefront, the ethics around those decisions, and whether or not AI has any place in pre- or post-war life. While the international community continues to debate AI on the frontlines, several groups are starting to use it to rehab the lives of veterans affected by the stresses of combat. 

Recent International Discussion

A group of scientists gathered from around the world at UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) to discuss the growing threat to humanity with the use of autonomous weapons. Often referred as “killer robots,” these AI-powered weapon system require no human interference to attack the target. Representatives of more than 70 UN member states attended the first meeting of the CCW, which is a formal agreement to ban inhumane weapons.

While there are no autonomous weapons in action, researchers have already warned about its misuse. In August, 116 leaders in AI and Robotics, including Elon Musk signed an open letter to UN, highlighting the grave danger of lethal autonomous weapons. The letter stated:

“Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare. Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close. We therefore implore the High Contracting Parties to find a way to protect us all from these dangers.”

On 13th, the first day of the CCW meeting, GGEs and expert panelists outlined a number of challenges posed by the use of autonomous weapons. While almost all participants expressed their concerns with the legal and ethical challenges with such systems, there was still a difference of opinion between banning the development of autonomous weapons and waiting to see how the technology progresses.

Several delegations suggested that all weapons must comply with international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL). While some others including the European Union, Australia and Cambodia suggested the use of transparent national weapons reviews to ensure control over the use of autonomous weapons. But, Austria, Brazil, New Zealand and Pakistan felt that weapon reviews although necessary is still insufficient due to lack of transparency. However, there was one common thread amongst all the views – the need to have some form of “human control” over weapon systems.

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Despite the criticism, Artificial Intelligence does have its brighter side. Through the ability to accurately predict outcomes using Big Data, AI is seen as an important tool that can transform the healthcare sector. There are numerous research projects being done across the country to utilize the power of AI and find new approaches to effectively treat the veteran returning from their deployments.

Here are 5 major examples where AI is making a positive impact in improving the veteran health care:

SimSensei Project

Started in 2011, SimSensei, a DARPA-funded project aims to develop a new-generation of clinical decision support tools and interactive virtual-agent-based healthcare delivery systems. Virtual agents utilize AI to display strong level of emotional intelligence to convince and engage military personnel in interactions. Ellie, who is the most popular virtual agent, has the ability to engage users in one-on-one interview that comprises of questions, listening to the answers and providing the response. Ellie is found to be extremely helpful in treating veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after returning from their overseas deployment.

The Tiatros Post Traumatic Growth

The Tiatros’ digital psychotherapy program utilizes the IBM Watson artificial intelligence and API to treat veterans with PTSD. In this program, participants write weekly narratives on their social media pages, and others are invited to comment on these narratives. In turn, the Watson Personality Insights and Tone Analyzer APIs provide personalized cognitive behavioral therapy. While studies have shown that 70-80 percent of veterans can recover after completing the PTSD program, only 10 percent complete the sessions in the first year after diagnosis. However, with this new approach, a 73 percent completion rate was achieved.

Million Veterans Program

The Department of Veterans Affairs is taking AI seriously to improve veteran healthcare. Partnering with Department of Energy (DOE), the Million Veterans Program is aimed to improve healthcare delivery utilizing AI and data analytics. VA and DOE want to establish a scientific computing environment by utilizing health data of veterans and create a big data environment to provide better healthcare solutions. More than 560,000 veterans have already enrolled in the program that has the potential to treat many diseases and reduce the risk of suicides, which is more popular in the veteran population.

The Durkheim Project

This non-profit research project ran from 2011 to 2015 that focused on making use of big data to gain more knowledge on suicide. Sponsored by DARPA, The Durkheim Project involved analyzing unstructured linguistic data from different sources and predicting the risk of mental health through a predictive analytics engine. The approach aimed to inform early about the risks and timely intervene to protect the veterans. This pilot project was highly appreciated as means to reduce the high rate of suicide among the duty personnel and veterans.

Bravo Tango

Bravo Tango is a Google Assistant App launched by National Geographic and 360i that assists veterans to access mental health resources, perform mindfulness exercises as well as meditation. The app was developed in partnership with former Air Force Pyschologist and combat veteran Dr. Michael Valdovinos. According to the press release,

“To use, open the Google Assistant app, and say “Ok Google, talk to Bravo Tango.” The program will then guide the user to an appropriate exercise based on how they’re feeling. Bravo Tango recognizes over 40 moods, including anger, loneliness, anxiety, disappointment, regret, sadness, fatigue, fear and insomnia. Exercises range from breathing, and focus, to grounding and visualization, even interpersonal connection and muscle relaxation.”

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