The Future of Flight: AI in the Cockpit

Watch how the U.S. military’s investments in autonomous flight technologies could soon change the way planes, helicopters and drones are deployed in the world’s most dangerous places.


AI-empowered systems may soon allow autonomous flying machines to reduce the number of pilots and soldiers working in high-risk environments. Could these flying robots also be firing weapons? WSJ’s Jason Bellini reports.

The U.S. military is investing billions of dollars each year in developing autonomous technologies that could enable planes, helicopters and drones to fly into some of the world’s most dangerous places, without a human pilot.

In this episode of Moving Upstream, we explore some proofs of concept already taking wing. The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Bellini was the first journalist to ride in an autonomous helicopter and get an understanding of the potential, and the current limitations, of such flights.

In the video above, we also get a first-hand look at new DARPA-funded drone technology that allows a flying robot to search buildings — without being guided or controlled by a human operator.

Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work said the Pentagon is working on autonomous fighter jets that could substantially reduce costs and perform better in combat than human pilots.

But U.S. military officials are concerned, he said, about how adversarial countries like China and Russia might acquire and make use of autonomous planes and drones equipped with autonomous weapons.

“In a democracy, we’re going to set legal ethical and moral boundaries on AI that an authoritarian regime might not,” Mr. Work said.

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