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24 November 2023
In the heart of cutting-edge technological warfare, John James – a US Army veteran with a five-decade career in uniform and as a civilian – remains a guiding force in shaping the future of defence technology.
Mr James provides critical advice and experience to the trials of autonomous vehicles designed for the battle space, marking a cross-generational fusion of experience in the defence realm.
Between this year’s Autonomous Warrior and Artificial Intelligence (AI) Strategic Challenge, a diverse collective, including industry experts, foreign militaries and members of the ADF, united their efforts to operate a multitude of autonomous systems.
Notably, Mr James spearheaded the SR-Surveyor M1.8 project, which highlighted an autonomous system transforming logistics and data recording in challenging terrains, enabling seamless operations in shallow and complex areas.
What makes Mr James’ involvement intriguing is his journey that traverses through multiple generations of computer development and AI technology.
A former US Army officer commissioned in 1967, Mr James commanded at various levels, gaining experience in air defence artillery in Germany and as a district senior adviser in Vietnam conducting light infantry operations.
His commitment to learning, including two graduate degrees in electrical engineering, and subsequent teaching tenure at the United States Military Academy (USMA), solidified his expertise.
Mr James’ transition from active duty to the civilian realm was marked by influential roles. Notably, as Director of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command AI Centre, he led the development of pioneering decision support systems, leaving a lasting impact for over two decades.
His work extended beyond retirement, collaborating with Lockheed Advanced Technology Laboratories on netted, distributed control for air defence systems.
Returning to academia, Mr James has been an instrumental figure at USMA, contributing to the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Robotics Research Centre for the past three years.
The centre’s ongoing research ventures have focused on human-robot collaboration for threat recognition and small-unit combat operations.
Humble about his work, Mr James said he is simply an old retired soldier fortunate to still be working with students and faculty.
The recent AI Strategic Challenge event at Jervis Bay served as a mixture for a myriad of autonomous technologies, specifically targeting undersea warfare and the development of robotic autonomous systems – artificial intelligence common control within the ADF maritime domain.
This collaborative event, part of the Technical Cooperation Program, involved participants from several countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, accelerating the integration of AI solutions into the armed forces.
“The AI Strategic Challenge activities are demonstrating potential future force capabilities arising from the convergence of AI, autonomy and robotics,” Mr James said.
“The series of opposed AI pillar contests at Jervis Bay, led by Dr Phillippa Spencer from the UK, have demonstrated multiple-agent automatons executing offensive and defensive operations in a contested environment.”
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