"The era of air combat in which artificial intelligence will be the king is already on the horizon."

Maverick Was Right

Computers aren't just beating humans at chess anymore.

According to a report from The South China Morning Post, Chinese military researchers have claimed that, for the first time, an AI-powered fighter pilot has bested humans in a real-life, close-range dogfight, winning the contest in an astonishingly short 90 seconds.

The paper, according to the SCMP, was published last week in the Chinese journal Acta Aeronautica et Astronautica Sinica by a team led by professor Huang Juntao of the Chinese army's Aerodynamics Research and Development Center in Sichuan, China.

"With superior calculation ability," the researchers write in their study, as quoted by the SCMP, "[the AI] can more accurately predict the development of the battle to gain the initiative in the confrontation."

"The era of air combat in which artificial intelligence will be the king," they add, "is already on the horizon."

Just Human Things

According to the report, the dogfight involved two small, unmanned, fix-wing aircraft, with the only difference being that one was operated by an onboard AI pilot, while the other was remote-controlled by a human from the ground.

While some challenges remain, the scientists claim the airborne battle "proved the engineering feasibility of AI piloting technology."

"Aircraft with autonomous decision-making capabilities can completely outperform humans in terms of reaction speed," the study reads.

Besides, as the researchers argue, the AI simply doesn't have to worry about human things, like losing oxygen to the brain during quick turns — or being afraid of death.

AI Arms Race

Of course, China isn't the only country working on getting functional AI fighter pilots into military hands. The US has been working on its own version of the tech for some time now, with one Heron Systems-developed AI making headlines back in 2020 for defeating a US Air Force pilot five to zero in a ground simulation.

But if that Heron Systems algorithm was a breakthrough then, this latest development, if confirmed, may represent a watershed moment for the technology.

In other words, Tom Cruise's character Maverick may have been right about his concerns that drones are coming for his job in "Top Gun: Maverick."

READ MORE: AI pilot beats human in landmark real-life dogfight, Chinese military researchers report [The South China Morning Post]

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