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The Pentagon, Artificial Intelligence and Silicone Valley

Pentagon Artificial Intelligence

The Pentagon, Artificial Intelligence and Silicone Valley 

It should come as absolutely no surprise that the expansion and rapid adoption of artificial intelligence across commercial and academic sectors has set the White House alight.

A May memo from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to Donald Trump begs for the formation of a commission to investigate America’s role in the “transformation of the human condition.”

This recently released memo came about three weeks after the White House had announced it would establish a panel to study issues related to AI. The New York Times speculates that it’s most likely that the Office of Science and Technology Policy will be taking the lead on this subject.

Artificial Intelligence and the Military

In June, the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, known as JAIC (“The Jake”), was publicly announced, though no other details were released. The Defense Department intends to shift $75 million of its annual budget, with a total of $1.7 billion to be allotted over the next five years, to this emerging area.

They’ve been pretty hush-hush, but one project that has been openly discussed is Project Maven. The goal is to create technology that can identify people and items in drone video feeds. Using AI, military operatives would be able to scout ahead or search rubble for survivors, among other things. That is, if the DoD can find programmers who will do the work.

Thousands of Google employees protested their company’s involvement in Project Maven. Google eventually folded under pressure and withdrew from the project. Although Silicon Valley has sent many players to work with the government over the years, this was apparently where Tech drew a line in the sand. 

In the eyes of these programmers and other developers, creating a robotic car is a lot different than creating a robotic weapon, especially one that has some amount of autonomy due to increasingly complex artificial intelligence tools. 

Meeting Silicon Valley in the Middle 

Waves of protest over using artificial intelligence with military programs created a huge push-back at the Pentagon.

While it isn’t backing down on the utilization of AI, it has offered a compromise meant to soothe the wound. The focus of The Jake will include “ethics, humanitarian considerations, and both short-term and long-term AI safety,” according to Brendan McCord, the former Navy officer and AI expert who will lead the center. 

The details have yet to be laid out, but if The Jake is going to happen with or without Silicon Valley, it may be better for them to embrace the ethical dilemma and use it to guide AI use going into the future. It was really only a matter of time before self-driving cars inspired self-shooting guns. At least with more viewpoints involved there’s a chance that the Robot Uprising won’t be quite so brutal.


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