The military’s research arm said Friday it will invest up to $2 billion over the next five years toward new programs advancing artificial intelligence, stepping up both a technological arms race with China and an ideological clash with Silicon Valley over the future of powerful machines.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the Defense Department, said it will fund dozens of new research efforts as part of a “Third Wave” campaign aimed at developing machines that can learn and adapt to changing environments.
DARPA director Steven Walker announced the effort Friday to an audience from American academia, private industry and the military at a symposium outside Washington, saying the agency wants to explore “how machines can acquire human-like communication and reasoning capabilities.”
“This is a massive deal. It’s the first indication that the United States is addressing advanced AI technology with the scale and funding and seriousness that the issue demands,” said Gregory C. Allen, an adjunct fellow specializing in AI and robotics for the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank. “We’ve seen China willing to devote billions to this issue, and this is the first time the U.S. has done the same.”
But DARPA’s expansion comes at a time of tension between government agencies and the tech giants who employ some of the world’s most in-demand AI talent. In June, Google announced it would not renew its Defense Department contract to help develop AI that could analyze drone footage, known as Project Maven, following a worker uprising against what some inside the company called the “business of war.”
The new DARPA money, some AI researchers said, appeared to convey a message: If Google doesn’t want to help the military develop AI, someone else will.
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