AI Software Defeats Professional Fighter Pilot on Low End System

Anthony Cuthbertson reported a surprising development on Newsweek that will be of immediate interest to flight sim fans and any who follow the exploding pace of new developments in artificial intelligence (AI). U.S. Air Force and University of Cincinnati experts teamed with industry to develop AI software for a $35 programmable computer, the Raspberry Pi (RP).  This low-cost Hobby grade board is widely available and is used to teach programming and computer science.  

A doctoral graduate at the University of Cincinnati built an RP-powered AI pilot called ALPHA. ALPHA went up against retired United States Air Force Colonel Gene Lee in a series of simulated battles, beating Lee in every single engagement. Photo courtesy of Lisa Ventre, Univ. of Cincinnati.

Two Raspberry Pi computers shown were photographed in London in 2013. The computer has been used to support many applications ranging from hobby robots and model airplane stabilization to household phones and heating and cooling systems. Photo by Mona Boshnaq/AFP/GETTY IMAGES.

RP was first launched in 2012 to promote the teaching of computer science.  Like the Arduino microprocessor, RP is designed to promote computer literacy to students of all ages, whether in the classroom or a home office. Bottom line is that it provides a programmable computer system at a very affordable price.  

Lee described ALPHA as “the most aggressive, responsive, dynamic and credible AI I’ve seen to date.”  Lee, who has battled AI opponents in simulated environments for more than 30 years, noted that after hours-long sessions with ALPHA, he felt “tired, drained and mentally exhausted,” whereas the AI was as sharp as the first battle.  He also noted that it was the first time he had seen an AI consistently beat a human pilot in tests.

Nick Ernest, the doctoral graduate behind ALPHA, now hopes to continue developing the AI as the CEO and president of the firm Psibernetix. Kelly Cohen, an aerospace professor at the University of Cincinnati, said: “ALPHA would be an extremely easy AI to cooperate with and have as a teammate. ALPHA could continuously determine the optimal ways to perform tasks commanded by its manned wingman, as well as provide tactical and situational advice to the rest of its flight.”  There has also been speculation on using the software in actual wartime scenarios to augment pilot capabilities.