I started to write a long, detailed business plan-type post to yours, which I think asks the correct quesitons. But then I figured why bother? Matrix will either continue to progress its strongest franchise, or it won't.
The AI improvements, global set-up variables, coupled with the graphic and UI improvements talked about here many times (zooming map, TF templates, easier industry interfaces, etc.) would allow Matrix to re-market the WITP core one more time to current fans like us. It would remove the need to fund a clean-sheet stab at a new engine, which is possibly a seven-figure budget proposition. It would stay away from at least part of the spaghetti code problem by working on the periphery of the engine. It would leave the currently awesome OOB alone.
Ah, I recall, yes. I guess in principle you are right. It would be interested in a questionaire, maybe with the possibility to rate the items one would like to see improved or expanded, or removed. Just out of pure curiosity to see what the majority would like. And ideally also those who do not regularly read or participate in the forum, and are part of the silent single-player audience.
I would dare to bet that AI and use of AI to automate some micromanagement or delegate some local commands (china ground, rear area ASW and convoys, etc) would rate high. And UI probably too. Not that I dislike the present UI, but the more Michaels adds to it (*, #, ...), the more it appears to slowly be overloaded. Also a zoom and unzoom feature would be extremely welcome.
Regarding the AI work I think you are speaking of Herwin. He studied that. I have been working only little with neural networks, although they are nowadays also being used in my field (theoretical/computational chemistry) to speed up codes. They are not very common, though, and also not meant to be "learning" in a larger sense. I have some experience with AI design, but mostly self-tought in my leisure time. In the past years I have been very busy writing AI enhancements and an "operational" AI for ARMA2, which is awfully modder-friendly with only very little hardcoded functionality not exposed to modding. It requires C++ knowledge as both the objects and the scripting language (with a special precompiler) are C++ based. With almost 1300 commands, local and global variables and various namespaces, you can do almost everything. The only limit is the CPU load, since in contrast to something like WitP it matters how fast your scripts are executed, and how many scripts run at any moment. The latter part is actually the bigger challenge, to avoid any overhead, unnecessary loops and so on. Often a look at the "numerical recipes", smart tricks/approximations and optimization is necessary.
I recall Herwin was of the opinion that an AI could never be as good as a human, and I know from other people in that area that there is a lively debate about such arguments. Part of it is due to the problem what "good" is? Behavior by the book? Learning behavior? Ability to improvise? Ability to make mistakes? And how something that in one outcome would look like the most brilliant, improvised, unconventional move might be bone-headed in another.
Herwin was probably right, we won't get AIs that will be on par with a good or poor human player -- not so soon, at least. There is many groups working on this general area, be it in the context of drones, industrial plants, robotics or whatever. They are making progress, some even in the area of learning codes (which gets back to the basic idea of neural networks, if I understood it's origins correctly). But no matter what would be doable in games with that today, I don't think any gaming company would invest that much yet. Not if a lot lesser investment gives you the same sales volume. And AI just is "just not a visible advertisement" (such as the graphics polishing of so many titles in the past 10-15 years, which somehow led to ignoring the further development of the game idea, features, AI etc.).
In contrast to Herwin I believe that AI can, nonetheless be a lot better than most games show. WiTE, for instance, I find shows that. It is at least smart by the book, and does all the routine stuff very well. And it could certainly improved to also react even better to unusual situations, i.e. what for a human would be called improvisation. Also there we follow rules, and those could be implemented as well. Just at what cost, what time and efforts would it take? Too much for a company.
Pretty much the same holds true for the ARMA series. Pretty good already as vanillia, it is amazing to see how much potential was opened up by just making this code to modder friendly and adding some many scripting functions, and more with each sequel and with each beta patch every month. Look at mods like ACE2, ACRE or so many others, they more than double the game content and not only fine-tune the AI, they really add new functionality to it. It took a long time, but since code is easily portable between the sequels, it gets carried on, improved and extended with every sequel.
With scripting functions and codes analogous to ARMA2, you could expect the community to squeeze out a lot more from games like WiTE or AE. You would have to rely on static scripts, which say "trigger the invasion of Nomuea on a fixed date, or when a given base falls". You could make that a separate function to be called with arguments (containing the exact LCUs or selected them based on a HQ, add LBA or Naval assets and whatever parameter you might want), and have it called from a parent thread that for e.g. check the force dispositions in that region first (BB, CV, B-17 or Bettys or LCUs with AV>y detected in the past X turns within a range of N hexes from ...), or whether there was a decisive carrier battle preceding it as requirement, and making sure it fits into the global strategy. Then you have this function in each turn put out some status variables to the parent threat, e.g. checking whether force allocations were to little, too much, whether supply is needed or whether a sudden development rendered this move totally stupid for some reason (and then perhaps spawning a function that could organize an evacuation, reinforcement or whatever you wanted the AI to be able to do). Some scirpting might need a little bonus for AI, for e.g. letting it occasionally peek through fog-of-war a bit or so, but if done correctly, it would still look natural/normal to a player.
I imagine in the beginning it would be a huge lot of work, but you could write such dynamic functions either for each set of targets, India, Adamans, OZ, DEI, Mariannas etc. taking into a account that way the peculiarities of the region a bit. Vanilla could be just about on par with the present AE AI, maybe with an additional check for naval assets before starting any of their scripts to avoid wasting CV or other capital ships against well-known player strongholds or such. The rest might be up to the community. And if you look at the DaBabes or RA modes, not to mention others, and perhaps a few of those silent single players who would be interested in a more flexible AI, I am sure after some 2 years all the vanillia scripts would have doubled in refinement and functionality -- after having seen how this scripting grew with each ARMA2. There would be a huge potential and I wouldn't want to imagine what someone like Andy Mac with his mean spirit might be able to do with such a toolkit at his hands -- he might be able to give even the most gifted PBEM players a hard time.
I think this would be a better way for Gary and his crew in designing new AIs for their games, more efficient than hardcoding and testing every bit of AI code on their own. Not to mention that this level of mod-ability appears almost a selling reason by its own right nowadays. I would be very happy one day to browse the forum and to see the announcement of a WiTP2 with such features, but well, it may be long before that.